Key Parliament Gunman Found Dead in Jail

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–One of the five gunmen who had gone on a killing spree in Armenia’s parliament in October 1999 was found dead in his prison cell on Friday.

Authorities said Vram Galstian–who was serving a life sentence along with the other attackers–committed suicide by hanging himself in Yerevan’s Nubarashen high-security prison. Representatives of Red Cross and three human rights organizations were invited to check the official cause of death.

"They opened the cell and we saw him hanging from a tightly knotted bed sheet," said Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee. "They did not let us see if there are any traces of violence–saying that an investigation is underway."

A former villager from the central Gegharkunik province–Galstian was the uncle of ringleader Nairi Hunanian and his brother Karen. The brothers were convicted last December of assassinating Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian–parliament speaker Karen Demirchian–and five other officials during the shock raid on the National Assembly on October 27–1999. Galstian was found guilty of shooting a lawmaker momen’s before the armed group burst into the main parliament auditorium.

According to Samvel Hovannisian–head of a Justice Ministry department running Armenia’s prisons–Galstian was placed in solitary confinement at his request "three or four days" before his death. "He said he could not live with the other inmates in his previous cell."

Hovannisian also said Galstian suffered from a mental illness and attempted suicide on several occasions. "In the past–inmates sharing the cell with him complained about his aggressive behavior," said Hovannisian.

But Ishkhanian informed that a prison psychologist visited the convict as recently as April 13 and found no signs of "disturbance." Ishkhanian noted that he and the other human rights activist were not allowed to interview the prisoners in Galstian’s former cell.

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