YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–At 5:15 p.m. Wednesday–10 gunmen entered Armenia’s parliament and assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan–National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchian–Deputy Assembly Speaker Yuri Bashkhian and several others while attempting to take control of the building.
The prime minister was shot as he addressed the assembly in a speech broadcast live by television to the nation. The gunmen are still in the building and are holding parliament in the national assembly chamber hostage.
Sources in Armenia reported that the gunmen–led by journalist Nairi Hounanian–entered the National Assembly building from an entrance reserved for journalists and got passed security by presenting their press credentials.
Hounanian was reportedly accompanied by his brother–Karen and his uncle Vram and others.
Several members of parliament have also been taken hostage in what the assailants called a coup attempt. Among the hostages are Armenian Revolutionary Federation bloc members Aghvan Vartanian–and Rouben Hakopian–as well as Armenia’s minister of culture–sports and youth affairs Roland Sharoyan.
Eyewitnesses reported that an assailants cried out–"You don’t know yet what we are saving you from," while allowing the journalists to exit the building.
At 9 p.m.–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that they managed to get into touch vie telephone with a hostage in the Parliament meeting hall–Parliament Member–Aghvan Vardanian (ARF group)–who confirmed that there are five corpses in the hall.
The bodies belonged to Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan–National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchian–Minister of Urgent Affairs Leonard Petrossian (former prime minister of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic)–Parliament Member Henrik Abrahamian and one of the deputy speakers–whose name was not specified yet.
It is rumored the terrorists are demanding a helicopter. No data on the possible destination is yet available.
The Noyan Tapan news agency reported that the group has allegedly declared a government–but to no avail.
Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian characterized the assailants as terrorists and said that the government was in control and was never threatened.
At 6:30 p.m. President Robert Kocharian was seen entering the National Assembly building–which was sealed off by law enforcement agencies. The Haylur news agency reported that the president was personally overseeing the effort to end the crisis.
At height of Armenia’s crisis from the early to late 1990’s Hounanian was often out of Armenia and involved in "business dealings" in Turkey.
Following news reports that Nairi Hounanian–one of the terrorists who stormed the Armenian Parliament–has been an ARF member–"The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Executive Council of Armenia officially declares that Nairi Hounanian was expelled from the ARF ran’s in 1992 for his misconduct and since then has had no relations with the party."
Nairi Hounanian graduated from the philological department of Yerevan State University in 1990. He was among the founders of the scout movement in Armenia.
He was also the founder and chairman of the "Union of Armenian Students" organization. He was editor of the "Dashink" periodical. In 1993–he worked as journalist for a news center registered in Bulgaria.
In 1994-97 lived abroad–in the city of Alushta–Ukraine. In 1997–he returned to Armenia and worked for the National Television of Armenia as a journalist. In 1998–he prepared a series of programs about his business trip to Turkey.
President Clinton–Wednesday condemned the shootings in the Armenian Parliament meeting hall. He stated renewed US support for the beleaguered republic.
Clinton said in a statement that he was shocked and saddened by news that attackers burst into a question-and-answer session–shot Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and several others–then seized control of the building–holding dozens of people hostage.
"I condemn the senseless act against individuals actively engaged in building democracy in their country," Clinton said. "The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers."
Clinton said the United States has developed strong ties with Armenia–and would continue to help maintain democracy there.
"At this time of tragedy we renew our support for the people of Armenia and their leaders as they continue to build on the principles today’s victims have so courageously embodied," Clinton said.
State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin said the department’s No. 2 official–Strobe Talbott–had left Yerevan–the Armenian capital–an hour or so before the attack.
He had met with the president–the prime minister and the foreign minister as part of his trip to assess the potential for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan–Rubin said.
According to reports by the "AR1" TV company–deputy of the Parliament–academician Mikael Kotanian died in the hospital from severe wounds. Parliament Member Hermine Naghdalian is also among the wounded.
At present–Parliament Members Edward Tsarukian–Hermine Naghdalian–Armen Khachatrian–Emma Khudabashian–Andranik Manoukian and Zhirair Gevorgian are currently in clinical hospital N 3.
Director of the Yerevan Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedy Vahagn Petrossian told Noyan Tapan that Armen Khachatrian has been operated on and his life is out of danger.
He has a penetrating bullet wound in the shoulder. Andranik Manoukian is being operated on for wound in his jaw. No information about the rest of the deputies is yet made available.
The community in Southern California and in the Diaspora in general was shocked from the turn of events in Armenia and reacted angrily to efforts to destablize the country and it’s government.