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1999 Armenian parliament shooting

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Title: 1999 Armenian parliament shooting  
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Subject: Politics of Armenia, October 27, 1999, History of Armenia, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Robert Kocharyan, Karen Demirchyan, Yerevan Metro, Nairi Hunanyan, Alexander Litvinenko
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1999 Armenian parliament shooting

1999 Armenian parliament shooting
2000 postal card depicting the 8 victims of the shooting
Location National Assembly building
Yerevan, Armenia
Coordinates

40°11′24″N 44°30′33″E / 40.19000°N 44.50917°E / 40.19000; 44.50917

Date October 27, 1999 (1999-10-27)
5:15 pm (UTC+4)
Deaths 8
Injured (non-fatal) few
Perpetrators Nairi Hunanyan and 4 others

The Armenian parliament shooting (Armenian: Ազգային ժողովի ահաբեկչություն literally National Assembly terrorist attack); also known as October 27 (Հոկտեմբերի 27 Hoktemberi 27) was an attack on the Armenian National Assembly in the capital Yerevan on October 27, 1999 by a group of armed men led by Nairi Hunanyan that killed Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, Speaker of Parliament Karen Demirchyan, 5 other high-ranking officials and one journalist.

The terrorist attack, as viewed by Armenians, is one of the most significant and controversial events of the Armenian history since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It changed Armenia's political life as second and third highest officials of the country were assassinated. Both Vazgen Sargsyan (a major figure during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Defense Minister in 1992-1993 and 1995-1999) and Karen Demirchyan (Armenia's communist leader from 1974 to 1988, made a comeback in 1998) were posthumously honored with National Hero medals.

Shooting

The government was holding a question-and-answer period when five gunmen entered, led by Nairi Hunanyan who was a former journalist, plus his brother and uncle. They burst into the parliament chamber after they easily obtained passes allowing them to enter parliament, smuggling in their weapons under their overcoats. They fired their automatic weapons and killed Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, Parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchyan, Deputy Speakers Yuri Bakhshyan and Ruben Miroyan, Armenia's Emergencies Minister Leonard Petrosyan, Mikael Kotanyan and at least two others. One of the victims was also hit in the head repeatedly with the butt of an assault rifle. The United Nations General Assembly meeting was interrupted in its schedule to pay tribute to the victims of the shooting.[1]

After the killings, the gunmen announced they were staging a coup d'état[2] and claimed that they wanted to punish "corrupt officials."[3] The leader of the group said they intended to kill only Prime Minister Sargsyan, and the other deaths were "mistakes". Security forces quickly surrounded the parliament building. The gunmen surrendered to the authorities on Thursday morning, 28 October, and freed about 40 hostages after they were allowed to speak on national television and were promised a fair trial and safe passage by negotiations with the President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan.[4][5] Nairi Hunanyan and the five gunmen were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Investigation and trial

Aftermath

"For weeks the Armenians mourned in silence, but from their grief a startling theory began to evolve. The assassinations had been pinned on the terrorist leader, an ex-journalist named Nairi Hunanyan, but the public was not satisfied. The fact was that Prime Minister Sargsyan and Speaker Demirchyan had recently created in parliament an alliance for democratic reform, and they were only men who commanded the resources and popularity to challenge the president one day. Of course, there was no actual evidence that Robert Kocharyan was complicit in this monstrous crime against the Armenian people, but it was clear that he emerged from the bloodbath with absolute power."

 —Garin Hovannisian, Family of Shadows, 2010[6]

Thousands of people gathered in Yerevan's Freedom Square for funeral services as the nation continued three days of official mourning for its prime minister and seven other slain government officials. About 20,000 people, including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, came to pay their respects for the dead. United States President Bill Clinton offered condolences and support by telephone to Armenian President Robert Kocharyan. Hunanian was later quoted as saying "We wanted to save the Armenian people from perishing and restore their rights."

Reaction

Public opinion

Conspiracy theories

It has never been fully explained what motivated the attack: the gunmen claimed to have been acting on their own initiative, and despite abundant conspiracy theories, no convincing evidence surfaced to suggest that any political leader or party was behind the attack. Nevertheless, the killings left a leadership void in the political establishment.[8]

Conspiracy theories immediately flourished that the gunmen had been acting on orders to sabotage a Karabakh peace deal; but a decade on, the available evidence still pointed to the leading gunman being a loner with a grudge against the Armenian political elite.[9]

In an interview in April 2013, Rita Demirchyan, the widow of Karen Demirchyan, suggested that the shooting was commanded from outside of Armenia and that it was not an attempt of a coup, but rather an assassination.[10]

Kocharyan's and Serzh Sargsyan's possible involvement

Many believe that President Robert Kocharyan was behind the assassination of Vazgen Sargsyan.[11][12][13]

In March 2013, Vazgen Sargsyan's younger brother Aram Sargsyan stated that he has many questions to both governments of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. He claimed the judicial process of October 27 "deepened the public distrust in the authorities" as "many questions remain unanswered today" According to Aram Sargsyan, the disclosure of the shooting is "vital" for Armenia. Sargsyan at conclusion insisted that he "have never accused this or the former authorities in being responsible for October 27. I have accused them in not fully disclosing the October 27 event."(Armenian)

Possible foreign involvement

Claims by Alexander Litvinenko

In late April 2005, in an interview to an Azerbaijani newspaper Realniy Azerbaijan, the former Russian secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko accused the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of having organised the Armenian parliament shooting, ostensibly to derail the peace process which would have resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but he offered no evidence to support the accusation.[14][15][16]

In May 2005, the Russian embassy in Armenia denied any such involvement, and described Litvinenko's accusation as an attempt to harm relations between Armenia and Russia by people against the democratic reforms in Russia.[17] The Armenian National Security Service also denied the Russian involvement in the shootings. The NSS spokesman Artsvin Baghramyan stated "not a single fact or even a hint relating to Litvinenko’s theory emerged during the trial." President Robert Kocharyan's national security adviser, Garnik Isagulyan, called Litvinenko a "sick man."[12]

Claims by Artsruni Avetisyan

On October 27, 2012, the French-based Armenian political refugee and former Apostolic priest Artsruni Avetisysan (also known by his religious name Ter Girgor) gave an interview to A1plus, in which he claimed the Russian secret services have been behind the October 27, 1999 shooting.[18] On May 7, 2013, in an interview to the same agency, Artsruni Avetisysan claimed the shooting was perpetrated by Lieutenant General Vahan Shirkhanyan, the Deputy Minister of Defense from 1992 to 1999 and the National Security Minister Serzh Sargsyan. He insisted the shooting was assisted by the Russian secret services in order to bring the "Neo-Bolshevik criminal clan" of Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan into power.[19]

Claims by Ashot Manucharyan

Ashot Manucharyan, one of the leading members of the Karabakh Committee, the former Minister of Internal Affairs and Levon Ter-Petrosyan's National Security Adviser and his close ally until 1993, stated in October 2000 that Armenian officials were warned by a foreign country about the shootings. He also declared that "Western special services" were involved in the October 27 events. In Manucharyan's words, "the special services of the US and France are acting to destroy Armenia, and in this context, they are much likely to be involved in the realization of the terrorist acts in Armenia."[20]

both killed by the terrorists on October 27, 1999, became the victims of the plan of territorial swap between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Manucharian accused the President Kocharian of concealing from the investigation the main version of the realization of the terrorist act of October 27 - V. Sarkisian's and K. Demirchian's disagreement with the so-called "Goble plan" of territorial swap between Armenia and Azerbaijan." [21]

Alleged role of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation

Nairi Hunanyan, the leader of the armed group, was a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).[22] According to the ARF representatives, Hunanyan was expelled from the party in 1992 for misconduct[23] and had not been in any association with the ARF since then.[24] Some speculations have been made about the involvement of the ARF in the shootings. Ashot Manucharyan stated in 2000 that he is much worried about the circumstance that "a number of Dashnaktsutyun party leaders are acting in the interest of the American foreign policy."[20]

Aftermath

From early June to late October 1999, the political system in Armenia was based on the Demirchyan-Sargsyan tandem, which controlled the military, the legislative and the executive branches. Their assassination disrupted the political balance in the country and the political arena of Armenia was left in disarray for months.[25] The assassination hit Armenia's international reputation resulting in a decline in the foreign investment.[26] The "de facto dual command" of Sargsyan and Demirchyan transferred to President Robert Kocharyan.[27]

Aram Khachatryan from the People's Party of Armenia was elected speaker of the parliament, while Vazgen Sargsyan's brother Aram Sargsyan was appointed Prime Minister.[28] However, Aram Sargsyan was dismissed by President Kocharyan in May 2000 due to "inability to work" with Sargsyan's cabinet. Republican Party leader Andranik Margaryan came to replace him as Prime Minister on May 12, 2000.[28]

Kocharyan successfully prevented the Unity bloc-controlled parliament from impeaching him.[25] and gradually consolidated the power around him,[29] Kocharyan remained highly unpopular in Armenia as a poll in August 2002 showed at least three other politicians (Stepan Demirchyan, Artashes Geghamyan, Levon Ter-Petrosyan) having more popular support than him.[25] In 2009, Anahit Bakhshyan, an MP from Heritage and the widow of Yuri Bakhshyan, the killed Deputy National Assembly Speaker, stated that "Robert Kocharyan turned October 27, 1999 terrorism act to good use, making a shift towards more totalitarian regime."[30] Human Development Report wrote in 2000 that the "October 27 events adversely impacted the situation in the country in all aspects and spheres and its consequences will be felt for long, in economic, political and social expressions" and predicted a further decline in human development.[31]

Later developments

On October 27, 2009, a memorial was installed in the National Assembly park. During the opening ceremony, Stepan Demirchyan, the son of one of the two main victims, Karen Demirchyan stated that "It is impossible to get an entire revelation while the current authorities are in power. However, sooner or later the reality will be disclosed. This is a matter of our statehood’s dignity. Only in case of having an entire revelation we will be able to overcome the negative consequences of the October 27 events."[32]

References

External links

  • Thousands mourn victims of Armenian parliament shooting CNN
  • Interior Minister resigns after parliament shooting
  • Armenian Shootings May Provoke Political Crisis
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