Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 97

Nine members of what Armenian authorities describe as a “criminal gang” went on trial on May 14 in Yerevan on murder charges carrying the death penalty. Led by Armen Ter-Sahakian, the group consists partly of former agents of the Internal Affairs Ministry associated with Vano Siradeghian, who headed that ministry until 1996. The defendants are accused of having assassinated the former head of Armenian Railways Hambartsum Ghandilian, former senior prosecutor Vladimir Grigorian [Kirkorian], former Ashtarak municipal council chairman Hovhannes Sukiasian, several other officials and private businessmen, and several of the victims’ chauffeurs as well. These are just a few in the series of unresolved assassinations of Armenian officials in the last few years. The nine defendants are further charged with several unsuccessful murder attempts. According to the indictment, the defendants acted at the behest of Siradeghian and in the interest of criminal groups linked to the former minister (Azg, May 15).

Ter-Sahakian and some of his alleged accomplices were arrested in January 1998 by Serge Sarkisian’s Internal Affairs and National Security Ministry. That move formed part of the successful “velvet coup” which ousted then President Levon Ter-Petrosian and the governing Armenian Pan-National Movement (APNM) from power. Little has been heard about the case during the intervening sixteen months. Launching the trial now, at the height of the parliamentary campaign, suggests an intent to exploit the case for political purposes. It seems designed to intimidate the APNM, whose current leader Siradeghian faces criminal charges in a separate case. It may also seek to show some progress on clearing up that mysterious series of high-profile assassinations which have plagued Armenia and compromised its case for admission to the Council of Europe (see the Monitor, February 10, May 4, 10).