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Armenia: Neighboring Countries Express Shock

Armenia's neighbors have reacted with shock and foreboding to yesterday's tragic incident in Yerevan, in which gunmen entered the parliament building and killed the Armenian prime minister and other leading officials. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke looks at some of the fears for the stability of the region.

Prague, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - The attack on the Armenian Parliament which killed Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian and seven others, including government and parliamentary officials, has deeply shocked leaders of nearby countries.

They have been expressing sorrow at yesterday's deaths. But beyond that, it is clear Armenia's neighbors fear the violence in Yerevan could further destabilize the volatile Caucasus region. With Russia already fighting a large-scale military action against Chechnya in the North Caucasus, any event that could spread chaos further south is of extreme concern.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who himself has survived assassination attempts, expressed anxiety about yesterday's killings. But he said he believes what he called the "wise Armenian people" will not allow a further destabilization of their country.

Georgian Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania called the incident a "warning" to the region, and a sign that joint efforts are needed to combat extremism. Zhvania said that "because terrorism poses a danger to our future, to our stability, to the normal development of our countries and societies. I want to stress again, that we are horrified by the barbarous attack that took place in Armenia."

In Russia, too, leaders were quick to condemn the shootings as a terrorist act. They said the Yerevan shootings justify their own military operations in Chechnya, which they term a fight against terrorists. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the Yerevan incident "shows once again that you have to fight terrorists until the end and without compromise." He said the incident shows that Moscow is "doing the right thing" in Chechnya.

In his condolence telegram to Armenia's President Robert Kocharian, Russian President Boris Yeltsin also mentioned terrorism. He said that after these events Russia would reinforce its friendship with Armenia, and cooperate in particular in fighting terrorism.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit spoke of previous "dark developments" in the Caucasus, and he said this tragedy could make things even more tense. Ecevit's senior foreign policy adviser, Ertugrul Cilagan, like Ecevit himself, is inclined to see extreme nationalist forces at work in Armenia. Cilagan told RFE/RL that "the reason for this coup [attempt] is not clarified yet, but I think it is a reaction to the peace negotiations which took place between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Cilagan was suggesting that the attack might be at least in part a protest to the recent meetings between Armenian President Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev aimed at bringing progress to the long-running dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The breakaway enclave lies in Azerbaijan but is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.

Cilagan also said Turkey wants to improve its traditionally difficult relationship with Armenia, and he recalled that Ecevit had made this clear during a recent visit to Washington. Cilagan said Turkey "would like, of course, to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, under the condition that Armenian troops withdraw from occupied Azeri territories."

For its part, Yerevan says that there are no Armenian regular army troops in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Azerbaijan, initial reaction has been restrained. A presidential adviser, Novruz Mamedov, said Baku had been in touch with Yerevan about the killings. Asked whether the Karabakh peace process would be affected, Mamedov said any change in the internal political situation in Armenia could definitely have an impact on the peace process.

In Iran, Armenia's friendly neighbor to the south, the reaction was strong. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the Iranian government and people feel strong aversion and deep sorrow.