YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The five men who staged the October 1999 bloody attack on Armenia’s parliament were given widely anticipated life sentences on Tuesday at the end of a nearly three-year trial that failed to answer some of the key questions raised by the killings.
Also sentenced to life imprisonment was another defendant who helped the assailants led by former journalist Nairi Hunanian find assault rifles and drove them to the parliament building in Yerevan. Another man who accompanied them got 14 years.
The presiding judge–Samvel Uzunian–read out the rulings after 18 days of deliberations. His opening remarks were interrupted by Hunanian who claimed that prison authorities confiscated his trial notes. Uzunian ignored the protests to announce the punishmen’s which seemed a forgone conclusion after Armenia’s fully scrapped the death penalty earlier this year.
He found Hunanian–his younger brother Karen–their uncle Vram Galstian as well as the two other gunmen–Derenik Bejanian and Eduard Grigorian–guilty of all counts of murder leveled by prosecutors. Most of them looked nervous as the sentences were read out–with Grigorian’s hands trembling. Only Karen Hunanian–who gunned down Sarkisian from an almost point-blank range–looked calm–smiling at one point.
All of them will likely appeal the verdicts at the higher Review Court–defense lawyers said.
The armed group burst into Parliament’s main auditorium and sprayed it with bullets on October 27–1999 with the declared aim of changing Armenia’s then government which it accused of corruption and mismanagement. The gunmen’surrendered to police the next morning after negotiations with President Kocharian who promised them a fair trial.
Hunanian insisted throughout the marathon court hearings that the decision to seize the National Assembly had been taken by himself without anybody’s orders.
"A just verdict would have been a death sentence," claimed opposition leader Stepan Demirchian–whose father–parliament speaker Karen Demirchian–was one of those gunned down during the attack.
But top pro-Kocharian politicians disagreed–arguing that Armenia’s new criminal code bans capital punishment in time of peace and that the country is also bound by its obligations to the Council of Europe. "I consider the political murders committed in the National Assembly solved," said Vahan Hovannisian–a deputy parliament speaker and leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.