STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–Nagorno-Karabakh’s former defense minister–General Samvel Babayan–on Tuesday gave the first testimony in his ongoing trial in Stepanakert with an emphatic denial of any involvement in the March 22 attempt on the life of the republic’s leader–Arkady Ghoukassian.
He also denied admitting last April the charges that he plotted to kill Ghoukassian with the aim of returning to power.
"If I had organized the assassination attempt I would have made sure that the whole building–and not just [Ghoukassian’s] car–blew up," Babayan told the judge.
The general–who was the most powerful figure in Karabakh until June 1999–claimed that in January and February this year he received "dozens of offers" to murder Ghoukassian but turned them down categorically. Some of the 15 other defendants standing trial were among those individuals who made such offers–he said.
The allegation caused a furious reaction from two defendants implicated by Babayan. One of them–David Ghulian–accused the general of lying–reiterating his claim that the armed assault was masterminded by Babayan. Ghulian used to be the ex-minister’s security guard. The wrangling among several defendants kept in the same cage degenerated into a brawl–which was stopped by security officers.
Babayan–who sits in a separate dock–resumed his testimony–saying that he does not remember signing the April 3 document cited by prosecutors as the main evidence of his confession of the crime.
He said he was drugged and beaten up on that day. The Karabakh authorities have denied torture allegations repeatedly made by Babayan and his lawyer–Zhudeks Shakarian–who along with some of the other defense attorneys argue that the trial cannot uncover the truth about the March 22 attack in the absence of a key suspect–Sasun Aghajanian.
The former chief bodyguard of Babayan–Aghajanian was last month taken to a psychiatric clinic in Yerevan with a serious mental illness. Karabakh prosecutors say he was one of the two gunmen who wounded Ghoukassian and his two bodyguards.