Resurrecting the October 27 Parliament Massacre on Its 20th Anniversary

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A whirlwind of political events is plaguing the Middle East and the Caucasus with potential fallout for Armenia, yet the Armenian political establishment and its media are interested mostly in debating domestic issues, sometimes amplifying them into outsize problems.

The obsession of Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan with Zangezur notwithstanding, the political focus in Armenia continues to be directed towards settling scores and spewing rancor. Of course, the domestic issues are important in their own ways, but they have to be viewed and debated within the context of regional political forces, because they may become issues of existential nature for Armenia.

The 20th anniversary of the October 27 parliament massacre has carried the headlines. Almost all the news outlets, pundits and politicians have been passionately debating the issue. The crime that arrested Armenia and delayed its progress for two decades has been resurrected.

Of course, there has been a prevailing sense of suspicion and conspiracy which continues to haunt the public, causing it to feel that true justice has been subverted.

On that day 20 years ago, a band of five terrorists, led by Nairi Hunanyan raided the parliament and assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and Speaker of Parliament Karen Demirchyan, who had recently formed a coalition called Miasnoutyun and had tilted the center of power away from President Robert Kocharyan. (Of course, Kocharyan is  currently in jail and awaiting trial on charges of subversion of the constitution a few years down the road.)

All in all, eight legislators were killed that day.

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There were and still are speculations about the motives behind this shocking crime. The most innocent interpretation was offered by Kocharyan himself, who stated that the crime was committed by a bunch of romantic politicians assuming a messianic mission.

In fact, the coalition between Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan had rendered Kocharyan powerless. Many were already treating him as a ruler in name only, much like the queen of England.

Another underlaying factor may have been the Meghri issue, advocated by a former US State Department Employee, Paul Goble, which had already gained traction during the Karabakh negotiations, by the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

A tip of the Zangezur region was to be exchanged for Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, cutting Armenia off from Iran and offering Azerbaijan a contiguous territory between its mainland and Nakhichevan.

Kocharyan was in favor of the deal, while the Sargsyan-Demirchyan tandem opposed it adamantly.

The massacre consolidated Kocharyan’s power, making him the major beneficiary of the tragedy.

Serzh Sargsyan was then the national security minister, and at the very least was accused of dereliction of duty by allowing five criminals armed with heavy weaponry to enter the parliament building unopposed.

Now that Kocharyan is in jail, awaiting trial, there is tremendous public pressure to revisit the October 27 massacres, to amplify Kocharyan’s guilt, in addition to the March 1, 2008 incident during which eight protestors and two police officers were killed.

Well beyond those alleged crimes, Kocharyan is the target of some political forces because, throughout his career, he has symbolized the country’s pro-Russian policy.

One of the reason for resurrecting the October 27 events has been occasioned by the appeal of Hunanyan for parole. It is believed that in exchange for parole, Hunanyan may make some revelations to corroborate Kocharyan’s  guilt.

While the public and the media have been debating October 27, an interesting political sideshow is unfolding.

The former Minister of Justice Artak Zeynalyan has visited Hunanyan behind bars. That visit turned out to be a non-issue. But another visit has caused a sensation. The second visitor was a controversial parliamentarian Arman Babajanyan. The latter has gained prominence through his anti-Russian rhetoric and today it seems that some outside forces are interesting in raising his political profile. One would wonder why Babajanyan is in the limelight as a visitor to Hunanyan, rather than any other legislators.

Babajanyan has been an ordinary journalist with a mission. During the last parliamentary elections, he ran on the slate of the Bright Armenia party. He quit his party affiliation to try his luck on his own. These days, Babajanyan is busy shuttling between the news outlets, offering interviews and claiming to possess privileged information from Hunanyan.

It is interesting to note that most of the television stations and news outlets clamoring to interview him are financed by foreign agencies. It is apparent that there is a deliberate and concerted effort to enhance Babajanyan’s profile as a statesman.

Through all those interviews, Babajanyan is pushing to open the October 27 case. His demeanor is calm, his speech is deliberate and articulate and he projects a serious image.

On the other hand, he is suspected of writing commentaries under the penname Sargis Arzruni, with a virulent anti-Russian thrust. In those columns, he has been pressuring the Pashinyan administration to open the October 27 case and he has been accusing as cowards the resistance to open the case in deference to Russia.

Certainly it is intriguing to revisit the massacre because so many questions remain unanswered. But it is also legitimate to ask whether it is the most pressing national issue now, when there are so many domestic and foreign policy hazards threatening Armenia’s progress towards a normal and prosperous civil society.

The Velvet Revolution has yet to run its course.

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