|ATTACK IN ARMENIA|
October 27, 1999
Armed gunmen stormed Armenia's parliament Wednesday, assassinating Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and nine other government officials.
-- Posted Wednesday, 6:00pm E.D.T.
Government officials said Armenia's parliamentary speaker and deputy speaker, as well as several key advisors were killed when four men with automatic weapons burst into the parliament chamber where Sarkisian was addressing lawmakers.
Armenian television is reporting the lead gunman is 35-year-old Nairi Unanian, a political dissident and freelance journalist. The group is reportedly demanding the government bring a helicopter and a mobile television studio to the parliament building.
At least 30 people were injured in the attack.
As of 6:00pm E.D.T., Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and two other officials were inside the parliament building conducting negotiations with the gunmen, who were still holding at least 50 government leaders hostage.
Sarkisian's body and those of three other government officials killed in the attack were removed Wednesday evening.
Russian journalist Konstantin Petrosyan, in the parliament chamber when the attackers struck, told Reuters the assault erupted quickly.
"The government was answering questions from deputies and Finance Minister Levon Barkhudaryan was at the microphone when suddenly four armed men stormed into the hall," he said. "They opened fire around the hall, at the deputies... It all happened so fast. I was in complete shock. One of them announced, 'We have come to avenge those who have drunk the blood of the nation."'
A television cameraman allowed into the chamber after the attack captured images of Sarkisian and other victims, still laying where they had been gunned down, while the gunmen calmly watched.
"We're not terrorists, be calm," one of the attackers said, according to the cameraman.
The AP reports the gunmen also demanded to speak on Armenian television. A spokesman for Armenian television told the Online NewsHour "negotiations are in progress, but no results have been achieved."
Armenia became an independent republic in 1991 following the collapse
of the Soviet Union. Located in the volatile Caucusus region, the country
has endured much political and economic turmoil since the Soviet breakup,
including a disastrous war with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian was second in the government to President Robert Kocharian, who appointed him to his post last June.
Kocharian was personally directing the security forces outside the building during Wednesday's standoff.
A staffer at Armenian television told The Online NewsHour the parliament building usually maintains a regular staff of guards.
"It is impossible to explain how could five armed terrorists enter
the building," he said.
The full cabinet had been attending a question-and-answer session in the parliament chamber when the shooting began. Armenian television showed lawmakers diving under their desks and running from the building as the gunmen entered.
Sarkisian's speech had been carried live on Armenian radio, but that transmission was cut off after the shooting started.