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Armenia: Q & A With Analyst Liz Fuller

Many of the details surrounding the shooting of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian and several deputies in the parliament building in Yerevan today remain unclear. RFE/RL Caucasus analyst Liz Fuller was asked to shed some light on the event, on Sarkissian's place in Armenian politics, and on any precedents for today's developments.

Prague, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Fuller was first asked how significant a figure Sarkissian is in Armenian politics.

"Vazgen Sarkissian is probably, certainly the second most important and most powerful figure in Armenian politics. Some observers have speculated that he could be even more powerful than the president. In Armenia, as opposed to Georgia where the post of prime minister does not exist or in Azerbaijan, where the prime minister is occupied almost entirely with the economy, the prime minister of Armenia does have tremendous influence. In Sarkissian's case, this influence derives partly from the fact that his previous post was as defense minister and he has the support of the army, and partly from the fact that the party which he created last year, the Republican Party, is based primarily on a group of veterans of the Karabakh war in which Sarkissian himself fought. So he has, in effect, two armed formations at his disposal."

Fuller was asked whether there are precedents for this kind of political violence in Armenia.

"There are precedents for the assassinations of middle level political figures. There were several such assassinations in 1993 and 1994. And, in fact the leader of the gang that is accused of having committed those murders is currently on trial in Yerevan. Last year, the prosecutor general was shot dead in his office. As far as can be ascertained, that murder was committed by a subordinate who later committed suicide. But [the targets of] today's violence is the highest level and the broadest ranging."

Fuller was asked about the broader implications of this event for Armenian politics.

"Its very difficult to discuss the impact of the shootings without knowing more details about who did pull the trigger and what the motivation was."

But Fuller says that regardless of the gunmen's identity, the shootings will underscore perceptions of political instability in Armenia and throughout the South Caucasus.