YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The hypothesis that the October 27 assassinations were a coup attempt seemed to be finally adopted by Armenian prosecutors on Friday when they decided to level fresh charges to that effect against gunmen who stormed the Armenian parliament.
Contrary to some expectations–chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian stopped short of making politically sensitive revelations implicating President Robert Kocharian and his entourage in the bloodbath amid renewed squabbles in government.
But speaking at a long-awaited press conference–Jahangirian revealed that one year before the killings Armenia’s former KGB considered recruiting the chief gunmen–Nairi Hunanian–for spying activities abroad.
He said the team of investigators decided on Friday that it has sufficient evidence to formally charge Hunanian and the four other gunmen with participation in what they see as a "conspiracy to seize power."
The gunmen were until now only accused of murder and hostage-taking. The announcement suggests that the coup theory has been singled out as the most likely of over a dozen different hypotheses of the crime.
Jahangirian claimed that Hunanian’s gang had powerful patrons that had promised it to mount a popular revolt in support of the killings of former prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan–parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials. According to that scenario–President Robert Kocharian would then be forced to appoint Hunanian prime minister. He insisted that the gunmen did wait for support from outside parliament building as they held hostage dozens of parliamentarians and government officials. The gunmen’surrendered to police 18 hours later–after realizing that nobody is going to help them–the military prosecutor said.
He said it is "not yet known" who had masterminded the attacks–telling reporters that he will disappoint those who expected him to make sensational statemen’s implicating Kocharian’s inner circle. "Nairi Hunanian is still [regarded as] the main culprit," he said.
Kocharian’s foreign policy adviser–Aleksan Harutiunian–is among a total of 18 individuals arrested to date in connection with the crime.
Jahangirian’s handling of the case is at the center of the latest tensions between Kocharian and his government rivals grouped around Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan–the brother of the slain premier. Sargsyan and his allies–among them Jahangirian–demanded last week the resignation of the chief of Kocharian’s staff and the director of Armenian state television for giving too much publicity to verbal attacks against the prosecutors.
Kocharian has sharply rejected the demand. There were speculations that the prime minister’s camp might hit back with scandalous revelations. However–Jahangirian confined himself to accusing Armenian National Television (ANT) and some other media organizations of "throwing mud" at the criminal inquiry. "It is inadmissible when the national television is used against the investigation," he said.
The presidential aide and his lawyer deny the charges and have accused the prosecutors of manipulating the case. The lawyers of other key suspects allege that their clients have been subjected to physical and moral pressure to give false testimony.
The defense counsel of the arrested deputy director of ANT–Harutiun Harutiunian–charged on Wednesday that his client was drugged by the investigators when they treated him to a cup of coffee during an interrogation on Monday.
But Jahangirian again categorically denied that any of the suspects had been mistreated. The attorneys as well as representatives of the International Red Cross regularly meet with the suspects and medical examinations conducted so far have not found any traces of torture–he said. Harutiunian felt dizzy–Jahangirian explained–because he had a heavy breakfast with interrogators after a three-day hunger strike.
Also according to Jahangirian–Armenia’s national security ministry–the former KGB–was looking into the possibility of recruiting gang leader Hunanian as a spy operating in one of the unspecified "regional states" a year before the parliament attack.
In early 1999–Armenian state television aired a series reports by Hunanian on his trip to Turkey. It remained unclear whether he did collaborate with Armenian intelligence. The national security ministry was headed at the time by Serge Sarkisian–the current chief of Kocharian’s staff.