YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s top government officials and politicians attended on Sunday, October 27, an official ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of an armed attack on the Armenian parliament which left its popular speaker Karen Demirchyan, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and six other officials dead.
They were killed by five gunmen who burst into the National Assembly and sprayed it with bullets on October 27, 1999, six months after parliamentary elections won by Demirchyan’s and Sargsyan’s Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance. The gunmen led by an obscure former journalist, Nairi Hunanyan, accused the government of corruption and misrule and demanded regime change.
They surrendered to police after overnight negotiations with then President Robert Kocharyan. They were subsequently tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Throughout their marathon trial Hunanyan insisted that he himself had decided to seize the parliament without anybody’s orders. But many in Armenia still believe that he and his henchmen had powerful sponsors outside the parliament building.
Some relatives and supporters of the assassinated officials still suspect Kocharyan and his successor President Serzh Sargsyan (no relation to Vazgen), who was Armenia’s national security minister in October 1999, of masterminding the killings to eliminate increasingly powerful rivals. Both men repeatedly dismissed such suggestions during and after a serious political crisis caused by the killings.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, other government officials as well as leaders of Armenia’s main political forces marked the anniversary by laying flowers at a memorial to the victims of the shock attack erected inside the parliament compound in Yerevan. Relatives of the victims also took part in the ceremony.