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 January 24, 2003 

Decision 2003: Presidential campaign begins with sensational claims and war of words

Naghdalyan was appointed to his post by President Kocharyan.Debate over the murder of TV journalist Tigran Naghdalyan turned into a political flashpoint this week, following remarks from an attorney representing slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sarksyan claiming a link between Naghdalyan's murder and the ongoing court trial related to the October 27, 1999 Parliament assassinations.

Naghdalyan, a long-time popular journalist and head of Armenia's public television station, was shot to death in the entry of his parents' home on December 28.

Naghdalyan was appointed to the leadership of Armenia's public television by President Robert Kocharyan and was a supporter of the President. Often he was critical of opponents of Kocharyan on his weekly program "Orakarg".

In an announcement immediately following Naghdalyan's death, Kocharyan blamed the murder on opposition forces.

But Moscow attorney Oleg Yunoshev's comments during a press conference January 14 lay the blame for Naghdalyan's murder on the journalist's knowledge of and alleged complicity in the October 27 terrorists acts.

Naghdalyan was expected to be called to testify in the trial and Yunoshev claims that if he had already given such testimony, he would still be alive. Members of the opposition are claiming that Naghdalyan was killed to prevent his testimony from showing a connection between the assassinations and the President's office.

Yunoshev based his accusations, in part, on what he says was Naghdalyan's editing of the videotape that was shown on public television of the Parliament shootings.

Actual footage from the National Assembly is 11 minutes longer than the version the public has seen.

Military prosecutor Gagik Jangiryan doesn't reject the fact that there are two original records, where the incidents taken place on October 27 in the building of the National Assembly are shot.

"On November 1 we had one tape," he said in an interview given to H1 television. "Later it became clear that there was another one and we confiscated it."

Yunoshev claims he has new evidence.Yunoshev says that between October 27-31, 1999, Naghdalyan approved editing of the tape and gave only the edited version to the prosecutor and that only a comparison of the two will reveal what happened in full. Further, Yunoshev charges that Naghdalyan was under orders to approve the edit.

The lawyer made further sensational claims adding that he is in possession of a new videotape from the October 27 event that shows armed men near the hall of the National Assembly who were not recognized as members of (the accused) Nairy Hunanyan's gang.

Yunoshev says he has witnesses who are ready to state in court that organizers of the Parliament killings are high-ranking officials and that he shall call them to testify.

"Tigran Naghdalyan is not the first victim connected with October 27," the lawyer said. "Let's remember the death in the isolation ward of one of the accused by this case. We have information that five more people who had any relation to that incident and could provide with any information concerning complicity of high ranking officials, have been killed. The names of those officials will be named in court in the future."

Lawyer Marina Janoyan, who represented Vazgen Sargsyan's family interests shares the point of view that if Naghdalyan were alive he could have enlightened matters concerning October 27.

"Naghdalyan had to hand original records to the investigation bodies, which he hasn't done despite the fact that we had raised this issue in the court," Janoyan says. "Participants of the case haven't gotten the opportunity to watch the original till now, while everybody has known that Naghdalyan kept the original."

But though Janoyan thinks Naghdalyan could have given crucial testimony, she doesn't think he would have.

"Tigran Naghdalyan was a very intelligent and well-prepared young man," she said. "People thinking that Naghdalyan would appear before court to tell about things which really happened that day or something they wanted to hear from him surprise me."

The October 27 trial has been postponed since last Friday due to the illness of Judge Samvel Uzunyan. It is not known when the court will return to session.

The timing of the judge's sickness is also being used by the opposition in an attempt to incite suspicion about what might be said in court.

"What is the reason for Uzunyan's unexpected sickness," asks Suren Surenyan, Head of "Hanrapetutyun" party Press Department, who predicts that the trial will continue only after February 19.

President Kocharyan, whose campaign (as well as those of the opposition) officially began Tuesday, responded to Yunoshev's claims by calling the attorney "a tramp with a lawyer's document."

Yunoshev replied to the President's statement by stressing that he had previously been a prosecutor in Russia and had received commendation from Russia's Prosecutor General.

Further, the President said Yunoshev's claims are linked to (Varzgen Sarksyan's brother) former Prime Minister Aram Sarksyan's Presidential election campaign.

"One shouldn't go to elections with corpses," Kocharyan said.

Campaigning in the Aragatsotn region on Wednesday, Aram Sarksyan responded: "(Kocharyan) himself came to power through the corpses. What else can one expect from this person?"


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