By Ruzanna StepanianArmenian officials on Wednesday categorically denied allegations by a fugitive Russian security officer that the October 1999 attack on Armenia’s parliament, which left eight people dead, was orchestrated by Moscow.
Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former senior official at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who now lives in Britain, claimed in a recent interview with an Azerbaijani online publication that Moscow hatched the plot to prevent a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“It is well know to many chiefs of Russian special services that the 1999 shootings in the Armenian parliament was organized by Russia’s GRU [military intelligence],” Litvinenko said. “With that special operation, Russia’s political leadership managed to prevent the signing of a peace agreement resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
He added that President Robert Kocharian and his then Azerbaijani counterpart Heydar Aliev were due to sign a peace deal during the December 1999 summit in Istanbul of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Kocharian and Aliev reportedly made progress toward a peaceful settlement in the months leading up to the assassination of Armenia’s former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials. The then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot discussed the Karabakh peace process with Armenian leaders in Yerevan just hours before five gunmen burst into the National Assembly.
The gunmen led by Nairi Hunanian, a former journalist, were sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2003 following a lengthy trial.
The spokesman for Armenia’s National Security Service, Artsvin Baghramian, ruled out any Russian involvement in the killings that had plunged Armenia into a grave political crisis and set back the Karabakh peace process. “Not a single fact or even a hint relating to Litvinenko’s theory emerged during the trial,” he told RFE/RL.
Garnik Isagulian, Kocharian’s national security adviser, was even more categorical, dismissing Litvinenko as a “sick man.” “We are not obliged to refute or confirm the products of someone’s morbid imagination,” he told RFE/RL.
“An Armenian court handed down a ruling in connection with the case and the issue was closed,” Isagulian said.
Hunanian insisted throughout the trial that he himself masterminded and carried out the attack to rid Armenia of its “corrupt” government. However, his final court speech, cut short by the presiding judge, was more ambiguous. The judge argued that the question of whether the armed gang had powerful backers is the subject of a separate investigation that was still going on at the time.
The inquiry was led by Armenia’s Chief Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian. He has suggested in the past that Hunanian and his henchmen did not act on their own.
Jahangirian and his team of investigators claimed to have continued to look for possible masterminds of the attack even after the gunmen went on trial in 2001. The case was transferred under the jurisdiction of Prosecutor-General’s Office in 2003 for unknown reasons. It was eventually closed for lack of evidence.
Some relatives and friends of the assassinated officials, among them two of Armenia’s most popular opposition leaders, suspect Kocharian of having a hand in the killings and have openly accused him of obstructing justice. Kocharian and his supporters have always dismissed the charges.