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Accomplice To Armenian Parliament Shootings Dies In Prison

A screen grab from footage of the deadly October 1999 attack in the Armenian Parliament
A screen grab from footage of the deadly October 1999 attack in the Armenian Parliament
YEREVAN -- One of seven men sentenced in 2003 for their role in the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings has died in jail, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In a statement, the Justice Ministry department that oversees the prison system said Hamlet Stepanian died in his bed in Yerevan's Nubarashen jail on May 15. It said an initial examination of his body found no "traces of violence."

As part of an investigation, four members of a nongovernmental council that monitors prison conditions were allowed to attend an autopsy conducted by state forensic experts. One of them, Laura Galstian, suggested that Stepanian may have died of a heart attack.

Stepanian was serving a 14-year prison sentence for allegedly helping five gunmen burst into the National Assembly and open fire on October 27, 1999. Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials were killed.

The gunmen were led by former journalist Nairi Hunanian, who surrendered to police after overnight negotiations with then-President Robert Kocharian. All seven were sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2003.

In 2000, Norayr Yeghiazarian, who was charged with supplying weapons to the gunmen, was found dead in pretrial detention. Police officials said Yeghiazarian accidentally electrocuted himself while using a stove in his cell.

In 2004, gunman Vram Galstian was found hanged at Nubarashen. The prison administration said he committed suicide.

Both prison deaths fueled allegations by relatives and supporters of the assassinated officials of a high-level cover-up.

Hunanian insisted throughout his trial that he personally took the decision to seize the National Assembly and overthrow what he denounced as a corrupt and undemocratic government. But many believe Hunanian and his accomplices had powerful sponsors outside the parliament building.