Law-enforcement authorities have decided to resume a criminal investigation into the 1999 armed attack on the Armenian parliament which left its speaker Karen Demirchian, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and six other officials dead.
They were killed by five gunmen who burst into the National Assembly and sprayed it with bullets on October 27, 1999. The gunmen led by an obscure former journalist, Nairi Hunanian, accused the government of corruption and misrule and demanded regime change.
They surrendered to police after overnight negotiations with then President Robert Kocharian. They were subsequently tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Some relatives and supporters of the assassinated officials still suspect Kocharian and his successor President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation to Vazgen), who was Armenia’s national security minister in October 1999, of masterminding the killings to eliminate powerful rivals. Both men repeatedly dismissed such suggestions during and after a serious political crisis caused by the killings.
Throughout his and his henchmen’s marathon trial Hunanian insisted that he himself had decided to seize the parliament without anybody's orders.
In 2004, investigators formally stopped looking for other individuals possibly involved in the attack, citing a lack of evidence. Last week, Anahit Bakhshian, the wife of the slain parliament vice-speaker Yuri Bakhshian, petitioned Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General to overturn that decision.
Bakhshian lawyer, Zaruhi Mejlumian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday that the office has granted the request, meaning that the Special Investigative Service will have to reopen the inquiry. Mejlumian said the prosecutors have also given her and her client access to materials of the suspended probe.
“There are materials which can be sufficient grounds for continuing the investigation,” she said without elaborating.
Some observers expected a renewed probe of the parliament shootings in the weeks leading up to the prosecutors’ decision. In October this year, a parliament deputy extremely critical of Kocharian visited Hunanian at a Yerevan prison and talked to him for two hours. The lawmaker, Arman Babajanian, claimed to have received important information from the jailed ringleader but did not publicize it.
Babajanian’s statements fuelled speculation that the current Armenian authorities may implicate Kocharian in the 1999 killings. The former president is already in jail, standing trial on charges mostly stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. He denies the accusations as politically motivated.
Aram Sarkisian, Vazgen Sarkisian’s brother and successor who has for years alleged Kocharian’s possible involvement in the attack, cautioned later in October that Hunanian’s potential fresh testimony must not be taken at face value. He said Hunanian could falsely incriminate the ex-president in hopes of being released from prison.