Murdered Minister Faces Inquiry Over Torture Claims

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Vazgen Sargsyan–Armenia’s former prime minister assassinated in the 1999 raid on the parliament–is under investigation in connection with a 1995 assault on senior police officers critical of the then ruling regime.

Officials on Wednesday confirmed that Prosecutor-General Aram Tamazian has ordered an inquiry into Sargsyan’s alleged role in the unprecedented beating and torture of several sacked interior ministry officials.

The move is bound to infuriate the late premier’s associates that regard him as a national hero and the founder of the Armenian army. It may also shatter an unofficial taboo on public discussion of the shady sides of Sargsyan’s political activities observed since his brutal murder in the parliament on October 27–1999.

The inquiry is part of a broader criminal case against Mushegh Saghatelian–the controversial former head of Armenia’s prisons. Saghatelian–who has openly accused President Robert Kocharian of masterminding the parliament bloodbath–was arrested last year on a string of charges dating back to the 1990s. He stands accused–among other things–of widespread human rights abuses targeting government opponents.

Prosecutors allege that Saghatelian was among top security officials that arrested and badly mistreated in June 1995 a group of former police officers suspected of plotting to overthrow the government of then president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. The severe beating allegedly took place at an interior troops barracks in Yerevan.

Tamazian on Monday ordered his agency to investigate the victims’ long-standing claims that Sargsyan–a government minister in charge of defense and security at the time–his chief bodyguard Movses Geghangulian and former interior troops commander Artsrun Markarian also took part in the assault. None of the three men is now live.

A copy of the chief prosecutor’s order was made available to RFE/RL by his spokesman–Gurgen Ambarian–two days later. It instructs prosecutors to conduct more interrogations among the ex-officers subjected to violence.

Some of them had implicated Sargsyan in the violence in his lifetime.

There was no immediate reaction to the news from Sargsyan’s relatives and friends that are in opposition to Kocharian. Previously–they have accused the president of trying to discredit the murdered prime minister and thereby indirectly justify the parliament massacre.

Nairi Hunanian–the jailed leader of the parliament attackers–has blamed Sargsyan for Armenia’s fraudulent elections and grave economic problems. His brother Karen who fired opening shots at Sargsyan has called the latter a "dictator and plunderer."

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