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Armenia: Obituaries For Sarkissian, Demirchian

Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian and Parliament speaker Karen Demirchian were among those killed in the shootings in the parliament in Yerevan today. RFE/RL regional analyst Liz Fuller provides this report on their lives and political careers.


Prague, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Vazgen Sarkissian, shot and killed by gunmen who stormed the Armenian parliament on Oct. 27, became Armenia's prime minister in June after his Miasnutyun ("Unity") coalition won elections the previous month. The coalition comprised the Armenian Republican Party, which Sarkissian founded last year, and the People's Party, headed by Karen Demirchian.

Sarkissian was born in March 1959 in a village near Yerevan, where he taught for several years after graduating from the Yerevan Institute of Physical Education. He embarked upon full-time Komsomol work in 1983 and then three years later joined the editorial staff of the literary magazine "Garun."

Sarkissian was elected a deputy to Armenia's first post-Communist parliament in 1990 and appointed to head the parliament's defense committee. He took responsibility in 1991 for creating Armenia's national army. The next year he became defense minister and helped organize the defense of the Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which had unilaterally declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991.

In late 1992, Sarkissian was replaced as defense minister and appointed adviser to then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian. He was reappointed to head the Defense Ministry in 1995 and rapidly acquired a reputation as one of the most powerful men in the country.

In 1997, the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, which Sarkissian headed, formed a political party. The party then effectively took over the tiny Republican party last year to form what Sarkissian said would be a powerful centrist base for President Robert Kocharian.

Since Sarkissian's appointment as prime minister, there had been repeated rumors, which both men denied, of tensions between Sarkissian and Kocharian.


Karen Demirchian, the Armenian parliamentary speaker who was shot and killed on Oct. 27, was best known as leader of the country's Communist Party in the 1970s and 1980s, when Armenia was a component of the Soviet Union.

His return to politics this year capped a remarkable political comeback following 10 years of obscurity that began in 1988 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev fired him for failing to curb Armenian support for Nagorno-Karabakh's unification with Armenia.

Demirchian, who was 67 and an engineer by training, began his career in the mid-1950s as a technician at the Yerevan Electrotechnical Plant. In 1966, he switched to full-time work as a functionary in the Communist Party of Armenia as a secretary of the Yerevan City Party Committee. In 1972, he was elected first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party Central Committee, a post he held until 1988.

For almost 10 years, Demirchian stayed out of politics, working as director of one of Armenia's most important engineering enterprises. He broke his silence only once, to endorse the candidacy of Levon Ter-Petrossian in the September 1996 presidential elections.

After Ter-Petrossian's forced resignation in February of last year, Demirchian was one of 12 candidates who contested the pre-term presidential elections, losing to Robert Kocharian, then prime minister, in the runoff. Demirchian refused to accept the validity of that runoff, which he claimed to have won.

He became parliamentary chairman in June of this year, two weeks after the May 30 parliamentary election victory of his Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc. That alliance brought together Demirchian's People's Party of Armenia and the Republican Party headed by Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian. Demirchian founded the People's Party in 1998 following his unsuccessful bid for the Armenian presidency.