Armenian Parliament Speaker Galust Sahakian believes the October 27, 1999 shootings in the country’s National Assembly in which eight official, including the then prime minister and parliament speaker were killed, were organized “from outside”.
Sahakian made the claim while speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) during today’s commemoration ceremony for the victims held in the National Assembly yard and attended by lawmakers and members of the slain officials’ families.
This is the first time a high-ranking official in Armenia makes an assumption that the assassinations of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian and six other members of the government and parliament may have been orchestrated by forces outside Armenia.
Seventeen years ago today a group of five armed men led by nationalist activist Nairi Hunanian stormed the Armenian parliament chamber while lawmakers were in session. They sprayed the hall with bullets, killing, among others, the then two influential political decision-makers whose bloc had won a majority in parliamentary elections five months before.
The gunmen surrendered within hours after negotiations with the government led by then President Robert Kocharian. In subsequent trials Hunanian and other attackers, who insisted that they had been acting on their own, were convicted of murders and sentenced to life in prison. Still, relatives of the killed officials as well as many opposition politicians and members of the public continue to believe that the masterminds of the attack have never been found.
“All of those who perpetrated the attack are in jail. I figure that from somewhere somehow they managed to organize something,” Sahakian said, without elaborating.
To RFE/RL’s clarifying question whether the attack was organized from outside, Sahakian said:“Naturally, I don’t think that anyone from among Armenians could do such a thing.”
After laying flowers at the memorial to the victims of the 1999 attack, Sahakian, who 17 years ago was one of the lawmakers in the chamber, recalled how the events unfolded. “It is interesting that at first the entire chamber thought that it was some kind of joke. But a few minutes later happened what you all know,” he said.
The son of the assassinated parliament speaker, current opposition MP Stepan Demirchian, also did not rule out the involvement of outside forces, claiming that everything was done to cover up the case.
“But in any case the crimes were committed by the local villains,” Demirchian said. “We can say that there was no desire to disclose [all the circumstances of] the case. On the contrary, everything was done to cover it up.”
Leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress party’s parliamentary faction Levon Zurabian also claimed a cover-up in the case that he said was not fully investigated under President Robert Kocharian and his successor Serzh Sarkisian.
“First of all, people from Armenia, from Armenia’s government who may have been accomplices in this crime, must be found. This is needed first of all to exclude future conspiracies and treasons against our state and, of course, it is the primary responsibility of any government to do so. But this was not done either under the second president or the third president, and this already shows that they don’t want it to be disclosed,” Zurabian claimed.