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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK

World: Europe

Analysts baffled by shooting

Sarkisian, right, with US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, left, and President Kocharian hours before the shooting

By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

Armenian analysts are baffled by the bloody drama in the country's parliament.

In a country where political and economic interests are often intertwined, shootings of political figures are not unheard of, but this one seems to defy explanation.

The Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, was the country's defence minister during Armenia's war with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

He became the most powerful politician in the country long before he won the parliamentary elections in May, in an alliance with the republic's former Communist Party boss, Karen Demirchan, who became speaker of parliament.

It was rumoured that Mr Sarkisian controlled large sections of the country's economy, and that a handful of shootings in recent months could have been linked to an economic turf war between corrupt elements in the defence and interior ministries.

However, Armenia's gangland murders have typically been carried out with as little publicity as possible, and a political motive therefore appears more likely in this case. This is consistent with the suggestion that the four gunmen announced, absurdly, that they were launching a coup as they opened fire.

Once again, no obvious political motive presents itself. There may be some Armenians who object to the slight thaw in relations with Azerbaijan that has been apparent in recent months, but this area of policy has been in the hands of president Robert Kocharian, not the government or the parliament, on whom the gunmen turned their weapons.

Mr Sarkisian is, anyway, renowned for taking a hard line on Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh.

Bloodless coup

He led a bloodless coup against ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian in early 1998, after Mr Ter-Petrosian began to support proposals to hand over occupied territories to Azerbaijan before a final political solution of the conflict. Mr Kocharian, who was subsequently elected president of Armenia, also favoured Mr Ter-Petrosian's removal.

The inhabitants of Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous enclave of western Azerbaijan, began a struggle for independence in the late 1980s. Mr Kocharian was the enclave's president during the years of hostilities prior to a 1994 ceasefire.

One possible clue to the gunmen's motivation is an apparent link to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a left-wing radical nationalist organisation with a long history in Armenia itself, and among Armenians living abroad. It's been reported that one of the gunmen was recognised as a former member.

Known in Armenian as Dashnaktsutyun, this organisation has helped to keep a revolutionary spirit alive in Armenian politics since the turn of the century. However, its mainstream members enjoy good relations with the leadership that came to power after president Ter-Petrosian was toppled.

Mr Ter-Petrosian had banned Dashnaktsutyun in the mid-1990s, accusing it of running secret armed units responsible for trafficking in arms and drugs, and carrying out political assassinations. His successors reversed the ban, and invited leading Dashnaks into government.

So even if the gunmen do have historical links with Dashnaktsutyun, it's still unclear what their motive could be.

It's also unclear how four men thought they could launch a coup without outside help.

Armenian analysts say that nothing about the incident appears to make sense, and only when the gunmen start to talk about their goals is any light likely to be shed on it.

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