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Saturday, October 30, 1999 Published at 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK

World: Europe

Armenia: Portrait of a radical

Security has been tightened outside the parliament in Yerevan

Acquaintances of the man who led Wednesday's killing spree in the Armenian parliament have been looking back on his progression from radical student leader to vigilante.

Nairi Hunanian is being questioned by police, after he and three other gunmen opened fire inside the debating chamber, killing the Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, and seven other politicians.

The attack took place as ministers answered deputies' questions on live television. Hunanian accused the prime minister of sucking the nation's blood.

One friend from student years, Levon Sevunts, wrote in the Montreal Gazette: "It was typical Nairi Hunanian: he always knew how to make a dramatic point."


[ image: The gunmen blamed widespread poverty on the government]
The gunmen blamed widespread poverty on the government
Mr Sevunts recalled that his contemporary at university in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, was expected to become a talented writer - not a political assassin.

He could recite Armenian poetry by heart for hours, especially the verses of his favourite writer, a firebrand revolutionary called Tcharentz.

But even then, in the latter years of Soviet power, Hunanian was a political risk-taker. He made no secret of his support for the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation, even though this could have landed him in a KGB cell.

When he was eventually arrested, it was as a student representative on the Karabakh Committee - a movement campaigning for the right to self-determination of a mainly Armenian-populated enclave in neighbouring Azerbaijan.

One of his colleagues on this committee was his future victim, Vazgen Sarkisian.

More radical

Another acquaintance from student days, Gayane Afrikian, recalled in the UK's Independent newspaper, how Hunanian went on from university to become one of Armenia's first post-Communist journalists. He worked for a progressive and outspoken television news programme that the authorities ultimately banned.

In 1994, after being expelled from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, he went to live abroad. When he returned, he was more radical than ever, Ms Afrikian recalled.

"Back in the summer, when he was just back from Crimea, I ran into him in a caf_ear the opera square in the centre of Yerevan, and asked him what he was up to," she wrote.

"He replied that he was planning bloodshed in Armenia because 'this is the only way to force the people in charge to stop sucking the blood of the nation'."

Ms Afrikian told BBC Online that she replied to Hunanian that he was "a loser".

She added: "He never finished anything he started, so people stopped taking him seriously."

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