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Armenia: Gunmen Feel No Remorse Over Parliament Killings

By Karine Kalantarian

The gunmen who seized the Armenian parliament on October 27 -- killing its speaker, the country's prime minister and six other officials -- are said to be unrepentant about their actions. Karine Kalantarian of RFE/RL's Armenian service talks to the psychologist who interviewed them in jail.

Yerevan, 1 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Nairi Hoonanian is the former journalist who led four other armed men in the killing spree that threw the Armenian government into chaos a month ago. According to a psychologist who has interviewed him and his companions in jail, he regrets only one thing: that he did not finish the job and overthrow the regime of what he calls "bloodsuckers" that has governed Armenia since independence.

Elda Grin, a leading Armenian psychologist, was engaged to help state investigators establish what -- and perhaps who -- prompted the gunmen to burst into the parliament chamber and spray it with bullets. Grin told RFE/RL that, in her talks with the gunmen, none of them gave the impression of being deranged. Hoonanian and his associates say that they acted in good faith. And all of them, she says, felt no remorse about the killings they carried out.

"In many cases, I have seen that people who commit crimes appear to feel guilty. You can hear in someone's voice and see in someone's face if they feel guilty -- even if the person will not admit it. It's obvious when someone feels guilty. But with these men, that is not at all the case."

Most Armenian politicians believe that Hoonanian and his gang were mere instruments for some unknown group's plan to destabilize the country. The slain parliament speaker, Karen Demirchian, and prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, were key figures in the ruling Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc that won parliamentary elections six months ago. Their death has created a power vacuum in Yerevan. The government has so far managed to keep the country from sliding into chaos, but political uncertainty is likely to persist for months to come.

None of the conspiracy theories favored by politicians has so far been substantiated by prosecutors investigating the killings. Six other individuals -- including a little-known parliament deputy -- have also been arrested since October 27. But according to numerous press reports, no evidence has yet been produced that would prove the gunmen were acting under somebody's orders in their attack on the parliament.

With official information about the inquiry extremely sketchy, psychologist Grin's remarks provide some insight into the gunmen's motives. Based on her conversations with the five gang members, Grin says that their ultimate goal was to install a new government headed by Hoonanian himself and guided solely by what gang members called "the people's interests."

Grin says that their plan was for two of the gunmen to leave the parliament after the shootings and assemble a crowd in a show of support. She also says that Hoonanian planned a televised address to the nation, which was intended to spark a popular revolt. In fact, only minutes after the killings, Hoonanian allowed several journalists to leave the parliament building, telling them to announce a "coup d'etat."

The psychologist says the gunmen insist that they acted on their own. She was struck by how closely four men with different backgrounds were bound together by close ties with Hoonanian. The group was composed of his younger brother, his uncle and two friends. The 34-year-old Hoonanian -- expelled from the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party for misconduct in the early 1990s -- is held in high regard by the other four.

Grin says that Hoonanian "can create a strong impression, is very convincing, [even] inspiring." She describes Eduard Grigorian, a doctor and Hoonanian's former classmate, as "cunning." Hoonanian's brother Karen -- who fired nine bullets into Prime Minister Sarkisian -- seemed aggressive, even "militant," to Grin. She says that the two other attackers -- the brothers' uncle, Vram Galstian, and a former refugee from Azerbaijan, Derenik Bejanian -- appeared "very frightened." Bejanian told her that he was forced by the rest of the group to take part in the bloody attack.

Still, Grin says, even Bejanian did not seem upset by his actions.

"When they brought in Derenik, I saw the blood of his victims was still on his pants, and I thought, how can he wear those pants? But he had no problem with it. He seemed very comfortable."

The state investigators -- led by Armenia's chief military prosecutor -- reportedly do not believe the gang's denial of any links with an organized group inside or outside Armenia. But some local newspapers have reported that the prosecutors have so far found no clues to any broader conspiracy. It is not clear how long they will take to complete the inquiry.

In the meantime, some Armenians are looking elsewhere for the roots of the tragedy. Grin shares their view that the killings were a sign of serious ills. Armenian society has gone through many upheavals over the past decade, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an economic decline accompanied by great social disruption.

(Emil Danielyan and Armen Doulian contributed to this report.)