1999 National Assembly Killings

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Armenia Remembers Victims of October 27 Parliamentary Killings

By Ruzanna Stepanian and Astghik Bedevian

Senior government officials and opposition leaders on Thursday separately paid tribute to the memory of eight government and parliament members assassinated in the assault on the Armenian parliament six years ago.

Relatives and supporters of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian, who were among the victims of the terrorist attack, visited the Yerablur military cemetery and the City Pantheon where the two are buried.

Among the first to visit the gravesite of Vazgen Sarkisian in the morning was Prime Minister Andranik Markarian accompanied by almost all members of his cabinet.

Only Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Local Government Minister Hovik Abrahamian were absent.

President Robert Kocharian again did not visit Yerablur this year. A wreath was placed there on his behalf by officials from the presidential administration.

The Armenian parliament was attacked on October 27, 1999 by a group of armed men led by Nairi Hunanian, an obscure former journalist. They sprayed the assembly with bullets in front of TV cameras.

The gunmen took dozens of government members and parliamentarians hostage before surrendering to law-enforcement agencies the next morning.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment following a lengthy trial in December 2003.

Hunanian insisted throughout the trial that he himself masterminded and carried out the attack to rid Armenia of its `corrupt' government. However, relatives and friends of the assassinated officials believe that the attackers had powerful patrons outside the parliament building.

The killed prime minister's brother Aram Sarkisian and Karen Demirchian's son Stepan Demirchian believe the part of the case regarding the masterminds still remains undetected.

`I believe those who committed this crime had masterminds behind them,' Aram Sarkisian said today. `All those who had a connection with the October 27 crime will be punished.'

Stepan Demirchian is convinced that the trial of the criminal group that committed the murders only deepened suspicions among the public.

`People are convinced that expecting a full detection of the crime under these authorities would be naïve,' he said.

Andranik Markarian, who last year said the trial had not provided all answers to the public, this time was less categorical in his assessments.

`There is always suspicion, but one needs evidence to give a final answer to this question. I don't want an atmosphere of suspicion to be created again, as it will hamper the development of the state. Time will give answers to all questions,' the premier said, talking to the media at Yerablur. At the same time, he added that he did not agree with Aram Sarkisian and Stepan Demirchian that the crime would not be fully disclosed until the current authorities resigned.

Neither did Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian repeat his last year's statement that the trial had failed to dispel people's suspicions.

Speaking at a memorial ceremony in the yard of the National Assembly this morning, the country's top legislator said: `We state once again that such crimes have no prescription. Our killed colleagues remain in people's hearts and souls.'

Meanwhile, Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian, who visited Yerablur together with Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian later in the day, did not rule out that investigation into the case might reopen at some point in the future.

The controversial chief prosecutor who led the inquiry into the case for years, said: `I think that generally such crimes always have a background history. It is another matter whether we manage to disclose it or not.'