Catholicosal Elections in Armenia


Special Daily Coverage

By Hratch Tchilingirian, Managing Editor of Armenian International Magazine (AIM)

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1. Delegates Arrive for the National Ecclesiastical Assembly
2. Bishops Conclave Discusses Major Issues in the Church
3. Two Front Runners Emerge
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1. Delegates Arrive for the National Ecclesiastical Assembly

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/25/99) -- Most of the 450 delegates from Armenia and 44 countries in the Diaspora have already arrived in Armenia to convene the National Ecclesiastical Assembly (NEA) of the Armenian Church to elect the 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians. Some 90 delegates are due to arrive on Monday night.

From Albania to Uruguay, according to the official registry of Ejmiatsin, between 7.5-8 million Armenians around the world will be represented at the election due to take place in the Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin on Wednesday afternoon. Even the 10 Armenians living in Bangladesh, where there is one Armenian Church, and the 15 Armenians living in Japan are represented through the Diocese of Australia and the Far East.

The NEA is the highest legislative body of the Armenian Church. Its principle responsibilities are: a) Election of the Catholicos of All Armenians; b) Election of the members of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council (clergy and lay); c) Establishment of an national-ecclesiastical constitution; d) Examination and resolution of ecclesiastical issues; and e) Stewardship of the church's financial affairs.

The last NEA was convened in 1995 with 400 delegates, made of 74 percent lay delegates and 26 percent clergy. The 450 delegates of the current NEA is made of 69 percent lay delegates and 31 percent clergy. (Anahit Martirossian and Hratch Tchilingirian)

Bishops' Conclave Discusses Major Issues in the Church

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/25/99) -- In preparation for the Catholicossal Election, today 40 bishops and archbishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church convened a meeting in the Patriarchal Palace in Etchmiadzin. They discussed procedural issues and important agenda items before the National Ecclesiastical Assembly (NEA) convenes on October 27.

Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly and Primate of the US Western Diocese, told AIM that the two most important issues discussed today by the bishops pertained to a new constitution of the Armenian Church and Church-State relations.

Hovsepian, who also chairs the Constitution Committee set up by the late Catholicos, presented a draft constitution to his colleagues for discussion and comments. Already comments and suggestions on the draft constitution have been received from all dioceses of the Armenian Church, both in Armenia and the Diaspora. The 69-year-old archbishop explained that his committee shall complete its work in January.

On Wednesday, he will propose to the NEA to approve the convening of an Ecclesiastical Representative Assembly in July next year, made of all the bishops of the Armenian Church and one lay delegate from each Diocese, to study the document, article by article, and present the final document to the new Catholicos for approval and implementation.

The bishops' meeting has accepted this proposal and the matter will be put on the NEA agenda.

In order to curb perennial problems observed during the tenure of previous Catholicoi, today the majority of the bishops attempted to restore the eroded authority of the College of Bishops of the Armenian Church.

"Any institution which does not have an internal constitution is prone to face difficulties," says Hovsepian. "When you elect a head of an institution, but do not define his responsibilities and nature of authority, then you end up with a dictator. He will insist on his word and not accept any laws. We must have laws that define and determine the rights and authority of our church leader. This is our major and most urgent problem and we should try to resolve it."

The second important issue discussed by the bishops today was the clarification of Church-State relations in Armenia, which has become a heated matter of controversy over the last few months.

Hovsepian explained that a committee will be set up by the College of Bishops to study the matter and seriously consider all the relevant problems in order to resolve all pending uncertain issues "once and for all."

"Throughout our long history, the Church and the State have cooperated," says Hovsepian, "But today, there is a strong tension between the two, whereby the church and the state are conceived as two different authorities, even enemies," he adds.

Together with several young bishops, Hovsepian strongly urged the bishops' conclave to start the process of clarification of the relationship.

"If the government has an opinion about the church, the church also has opinion about the government. This has to be clarified and the authority of the Armenian Church in Armenia should be restored properly," Hovsepian explained. "For example, the issue of religious education in public schools has not been resolved. This is the duty and responsibility of the Armenian Church."

Most concerning for the hierarchy of the Church is the problem of church properties and their legal status in Armenia. "We have many properties which were confiscated during the Soviet period. Some of the properties were given back, some of them have not, and there is a general uncertainty about the legal status of church properties throughout the country," said Hovsepian. "These have to be clarified on a legal basis."

In the framework of church-state relations, several high-ranking bishops told AIM that they wish the Armenian Apostolic Church would be declared the official state church of Armenia. While affirming that other denominations could exist and work in Armenia, they believe the Armenian Church should be the official Church of Armenia, as in the case of the Church of England.

A committee has already been set to study these issues and present recommendations in the near future to both the College of Bishops and the National Ecclesiastical Assembly. (Hratch Tchilingirian)


EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/25/99) - While the 49 bishops and archbishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church are eligible candidates for the post of 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians, the two apparent front runners for the highest position in the Church are the 62-year-old Archbishop Nersess Bozabalian, the current Locum Tenens of Ejmiatsin and the 47-year-old Archbishop Garegin Nersissian, Vicar of the Ararat Diocese and former Vicar General of the Catholicosate.

The College of Bishops and hundreds of delegates have concentrated their attention on the two candidates.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, the Armenian government's "interference" in the church election has become the focus of major controversy and media frenzy both in Armenia and the Diaspora.

Archbishop Nersissian is presented as the "government's candidate" with many supporters both among the high-ranking clergy and lay delegates (he received the second highest votes during the 1995 elections). Archbishop Bozabalian is considered the candidate of the "opposition," whose support is growing as well.

However, state influence in the church election continues to dominate discussions in and outside Ejmiatsin. Nevertheless, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, affirms that putting pressure on delegates is almost impossible.

"No one can put pressure on any delegate," states Hovsepian. "The vote is secret. The names of each delegate will be read aloud, then each will come and sign for a ballot, and each will cast their vote in front of the main altar of the Cathedral of Ejmiatsin. Only the voters know whom they are voting for. This is absolutely a secret process," he explains.

After the voting is completed, the NEA's Ballot Committee establishes the validity of each ballot, which is then loudly announced and recorded according to Hovsepian. "Everyone in the Assembly can keep track of the votes as each candidate's name as indicated on the ballot is loudly announced."

As for the two front runners, Hovsepian says, "Both have long years of service to the Armenian Church," and adds that "No matter which candidate each bishop supports, in the final analysis, once the Catholicos is elected there are no ifs or buts. There will be 100 percent support and 100 percent cooperation with the new Catholicos. Our church is in a very difficult situation and we should be able to rebuild the life of our church," Hovsepian says optimistically.

Not all bishops and lay delegates share Hovsepian's enthusiasm. The Catholicossal election campaign is clearly divided into two camps, each camp trying to convince as many delegates as possible of the "worthiness" of their candidate.

For a long time, it appeared that the two camps could more correctly be labeled the Nersissian camp, and the anti-Nersissian camp. In fact, some observers said that all the noise about government tampering had as much to do with trying to discredit Nersissian as with any real or perceived interference.

As one bishop put it cynically, "We are not going to elect the worthiest candidate, but we are going to elect the most suitable candidate." (Hratch Tchilingirian)


Tuesday, 26 October 1999
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1. NEA Delegates Register
2. Agenda of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly
3. Perspectives on the Government's Interference
4. Two Front Runners Reflect on the Election
5. Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan Responds to Rumors and Accusations
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1. NEA Delegates Register

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/26/99) — Today, a solemn Divine Liturgy was
celebrated in the Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin with the participation of
high-ranking bishops, clergy and hundreds of delegates from around the world
who had come to Armenia to convene the National Ecclesiastical Assembly (NEA)
that will elect the 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians.

At the conclusion of the Liturgy, a requiem service was conducted over the
grave of the late Catholicos Karekin I whose remains rest on the right side
of the main entrance of the cathedral. Worshippers and delegates placed fresh
flowers on the newly built tombstone of the late pontiff, who died on June 29
after serving for only four years as the head of the Armenian Church.

At 2:00 p.m., the 450 NEA delegates proceeded to the Patriarchal Palace,
delegation by delegation to present their credentials, register and receive
their delegate's package.

The National Ecclesiastical Assembly will officially start tomorrow at 10
a.m. local time.

2. The Agenda of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/26/99) - The National Ecclesiastical Assembly of
the Armenian Apostolic Church will officially convene tomorrow morning with a
full agenda. Some 450 delegates from Armenia and 44 countries in the Diaspora
will participate in this pan-Armenian church gathering that will elect a new
Catholicos of All Armenians.

The Assembly will start at 10 a.m. in the large hall of the Patriarchal
Palace (Veharan). Locum Tenens of the Holy See of Ejmiatsin, Archbishop
Nersess Bozabalian will preside over the proceedings. In the first session of
the assembly, after assembly procedures are established, President Robert
Kocharian will address the delegates, which will be followed by the report of
the Catholicossal Locum Tenens, election of the Assembly's executives and
appointment of committees.

At the end of the first session, before a short lunch break, the names of the
candidates for the post of Catholicos of All Armenians will be announced.

The election of the new Catholicos will start at 2 p.m. local time in the
Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin.

The NEA will continue meeting on Thursday under the presidency of the newly
elected Catholicos.

3. Perspectives on the Government's Interference

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/26/99) - Today, as hundreds of NEA delegates
congregated in Ejmiatsin, discussions, campaigning and circulation of rumors
continued to dominate the scene in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Holy

As AIM reported yesterday, the election appears divided into two main camps;
namely, between supporters of Archbishop Garegin Nersissian, Vicar of the
Ararat Diocese and Archbishop Nersess Bozabalian, Locum Tenens of the
Catholicosate. Today, it has become even more apparent that the race will be
between the two clergymen who enjoy great support among the 450 delegates.

The controversial issue of the Armenian government's interference in the
elections continues to dominate most conversations among the delegates and
interested circles.

Indeed, the Eastern US Diocese will be presenting an official resolution to
the NEA tomorrow "condemning the act of interference of any outside
institution, authority or government, including the Republic of Armenia, in
the internal affairs of the Church in electing a Catholicos."

AIM asked Fr. Dajad Davidian, a delegate of the Eastern US Diocese who will
be presenting the resolution of his Diocese to the NEA, to respond to
opinions circulating in Armenia and the Diaspora that the protest against
government interference is in fact a campaign to discredit the person of
Archbishop Garegin Nersissian, who seems to have a large chance of winning
the election.

"First of all, I have great respect for Archbishop Nersissian," said Fr.
Davidian. "For me this question is something altogether different. It has
nothing to do with the person of Archbishop Nersissian."

He explains that the issue is a matter of principle. "The principle is this:
no institution, no government has the right to interfere in the election of
our Catholicos and try to dictate to us," says Davidian.

In discussing the crux of the matter, Davidian explains: "The 1945
guidelines for the election of Catholicos are very clear. Even though it was
written under a communist regime, it is simple and plain. It says that the
delegates of every diocese in the Armenian Church are to be elected by the
people of that diocese and that all the parishioners -- it uses the term
parishioners -- are to take part in the election of their delegates. And to
stop this process, I think is something we have to be very careful about.
This has nothing to do with this candidate or that candidate. That is another

As to how and why the government should be involved in such a process,
Davidian provided examples to clarify his point. "I know about the
government's involvement as a matter of fact, through the people I have
talked to who are involved," he says. "They [the government] submitted lists
to diocesan authorities [in Armenia] that these are the people that they are
supposed to choose as delegates to the Assembly."

Davidian mentions a case in point involving a parish in Yerevan. "I know a
particular parish in Yerevan, where I talked with the parishioners, very good
and faithful parish, they were to have two delegates and suddenly they
realized that their two delegates are people that they don't even know. And
this is an active, worshipping parish where people go regularly. They
contested and protested, but pressure was put on the protesters to withdraw
their objections. Some did withdraw their names from the protest, but others
kept their names on the protest. What will happen to that protest? These
people feel they have the legitimate right to take part in the process of
election and not to be used. I agree with that," concludes Davidian.

Notwithstanding such shortcomings, on the eve of the election, many bishops
and clergy are advocating that church and state relations in Armenia should
be discussed openly, clarified and sealed within an official, legal agreement
between the two entities.

4. Two Front Runners Reflect on the Eve of the Election

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/26/99) - Following the Divine Liturgy in the
Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin this morning, AIM asked the two front runners for
the highest position in the Armenian Church -- Archbishop Garegin Nersissian,
47, Vicar of the Ararat Diocese and Archbishop Nersess Bozabalian, 62, the
Locum Tenens of Ejmiatsin -- about their thoughts on tomorrow's Catholicossal

Vicar of the Ararat Diocese and former Vicar General of the Catholicosate

"We have just come out of the Divine Liturgy, where we confessed and took
communion together with all the clergy and delegates of the National
Ecclesiastical Assembly that are here. We pray to God that he may lead us
through the Holy Spirit to correct decisions that are ahead of us and to
elect the 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians. I am sure, at the end of the
millennium and the beginning of the new one, the entire nation and the
motherland have great hopes and expectations from the new Catholicos.

"Obviously the mission of the new Catholicos will be very heavy, because
there are many issues before the Church today, as well as the Republic of
Armenia. The Church, the State, the Nation and the Diaspora, we should all
work together to build our Motherland, to strength and advance our country,
and to create a good life for our people.

"The Church has a great mission to realize. First, to restore the spiritual-mo
ral character of our people, to live a Christian life, to include prayer in
their lives, so that truth, justice and goodness are the guiding path of our
people and nation.

"Likewise, there are great things to be done in various spheres, such as
administration, organizational life and construction work. In the sphere of
education, there is a great need to prepare religious servants, as well as in
ecumenical relations, publications, and many others. We shall seek the Lord’s
assistance in these endeavors, the assistance of the new Catholicos-to-be, so
that the Throne of the Illuminator may spread God's blessings to our people.

[On Church-State Relations]

"I believe the new Catholicos should pursue a policy whereby church-state
relations are defined more concretely and clearly. In this sphere, as well,
there is a lot of work to be done, there are a host of issues that need to be
clarified and resolved. It is obvious that after the declaration of
independent statehood, as a church we did not have the chance to do this
work. Catholicos Vazken I passed away, then came Catholicos Karekin I who
started to deal with these issues, but did not complete the work due to his
short tenure.

"Meanwhile, the Armenian state itself has faced and continues to deal with
many political, economic and social problems, and could not pursue a process
of clarification of its relations with the Church.

"Therefore, one of the important issues that the new Catholicos has to deal
with is the clarification and correct understanding of Church-State
relations, so that, together with the state and our national authorities, the
Church may be able to realize its mission and function more effectively."

Locum Tenens of the Catholicosate

"Today, the delegates from all the dioceses of the Armenian Church gathered
in Ejmiatsin to prepare for the election of the 132nd Catholicos of All

"Today, I, together with our diocesan bishops, am happy and satisfied to see
so many delegates from around the world on this very special occasion. Our
expectations are about to be realized, God willing, tomorrow we shall elect a
successor to the Throne of the Illuminator.

"We are joyous that, despite minor difficulties, we were able to organize
this election. We are sure that everything will proceed in order, as planned
and organized.

"On this occasion, I wish that the Holy Spirit may provide inspiration to all
of us and lead us to the election of the new head of the Church.

[Regarding controversies]

"Every rising storm has its demise. Every hurricane -- like the ones we
witness in Latin America or the Caribbean islands -- eventually dies out. We
are sure that the storm surrounding this election will end right after the
new head of the Armenian Church is elected and we shall see the restoration
of peace in the environment. We organized this election with this kind of
optimism. And we hope to bring the entire process to its end with the same
optimism. Everything shall return to its normal and canonical order."

5. Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan Responds to Rumors
and Accusations Made Against Him in the Media

EJMIATSIN (AIM Magazine 10/26/99) - Today as hundreds of delegates from
around the world gathered in Ejmiatsin to register for tomorrow's National
Ecclesiastical Assembly, rumors spread among the delegates in the compound of
Holy Ejmiatsin.

To provide our readers with a glimpse of the general mood in Ejmiatsin, AIM
investigated one such story.

According to the rumor, last night the two Patriarchs of the Armenian Church
-- Archbishop Torkom Manoogian and Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan -- and a few
bishops met with President Robert Kocharian to alter the course and results
of the elections and have Patriarch Manoogian of Jerusalem become the new

AIM asked Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan of Istanbul and All Turkey, whose name
was mentioned in the rumor, to respond to the allegations.

PATRIARCH MESROB: This rumor is absolutely unfounded and false. We have not
visited the President nor called upon anyone in the government at any level.
In fact, I do not think it is in the authority of the President or any other
state official to appoint a Catholicos. Nor do they have the prerogative to
voice their opinion on an official level.

"Unfortunately, there is already a shadow cast over this election, because we
know that many of the lay delegates -- apart from the bishops in Armenia and
the CIS -- have been appointed and not elected by their respective parishes
or communities. This is against the present election by-laws of the Armenian

"In fact, this was one of the issues discussed at the last Supreme Spiritual
Council [the executive body of the Catholicosate of All Armenians]. There
were long discussions about this problem, a number of bishops raised
objections, but in the end the submitted lists were approved, arguing that:
'The arrangements were made in the best possible manner by local churches;'
that the rules and regulations were observed during the appointment of these
delegates. But in reality, they were not. As such, there is a shadow already
cast over this election.

"When you look at the delegates from Armenia, you will find people who work
for the government, the police and security forces, in fact, even the Mayor
of Yerevan and the President of the Central Bank of Armenia are delegates
from Yerevan. If these were a few cases among 450 delegates, it would be
understandable, as you might expect that people from various walks of life
would be believers, but when you see such a high number of state personnel
among the delegates, you start to question it.

"People say that whatever has been done so far will work out in the end and
the Holy Spirit will do the rest. This would be the case assuming that people
have faith. But if we approach our church with such faithlessness and we try
to wheel and deal, arrange things and leave no place for the Lord, so that
His will is manifest in the Church, then we should not expect any miracles
from this election. It seems that those who have power and money will impose
their will on the Church.

"But, of course, we know from the Scriptures, miracles sometimes occur,
because the Lord wants to bring the faithless to faith. I'm just hoping
before the election that this will be the case.

AIM: Some circles, including certain media outlets, have characterized your
and others’ protests over the government's interference in the election as a
way to discredit the person of Archbishop Garegin Nesissian, one of the front
runners of this election.

PATRIARCH MESROB: This is absolute nonsense. Our objection is based on
principles. I deeply believe in the separation of church and state. I do not
think the Church should behave like the government and I do not believe that
the government should interfere in the affairs and ministries of the Church.
Otherwise, Armenia will become a police state, if there is heavy government
control in all walks of life.

"My objection is on the level of principles. I do not single out any one
country. Whether in Armenia, Turkey or the United States, I would have voiced
the same conviction.

"Perhaps, because my recent visit to the United States a few weeks ago -- to
do fundraising for the relief efforts after the earthquake in Turkey --
coincided with the publication of the Pastoral Appeal signed by six bishops
of the Armenian Church [condemning state interference], the local media in
America asked me questions about the Catholicossal election. And I replied to
their questions. Indeed, the invitation to visit the US came in late August,
long before this controversy started.

"I think because I faced the media in America, I was hurt more than the
bishops who signed the Appeal. I am not the one who prepared the text of the
appeal, I am one of the bishops who gave my consent to the Appeal and signed
it. I am not the one who published it. In fact, it was first published in New
York and later in Armenia.

AIM: You are viewed as a possible candidate for the post, especially certain
circles, the so-called "anti-Nersissian" group discusses you as a possible
candidate. But, in the last few days you have indicated that you are not a

PATRIARCH MESROB: It is not correct to say that I am no longer a candidate,
because I have never suggested that I would be a candidate. I am very happy
with the very traditionalist and pious community I have in Istanbul. Indeed,
various representatives have repeatedly visited me and asked me to remain
Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey and not consider becoming a candidate
for the Catholicosate of Ejmiatsin. In turn, I told them that I never said
that I would be a candidate for the Throne of Ejmiatsin. But it is true that
over 20 bishops suggested that I should be nominated and more bishops were in

"I told my brother bishops, when they first informed me of their intention,
that we should all pray about it and perhaps look for someone else rather
than the leader of a Hierarchical See of the Church, that it has been only a
year since I was elected Patriarch of Istanbul and I have not been able to
complete the projects that I have started -- that they should be looking for
someone else. The candidates I had in mind were Archbishops Barkev
Martirossian of Artsakh, Khajag Barsamian of the US Eastern Diocese and Locum
Tenens Nersess Bozabalian. But archbishops Barkev and Khajag indicated that
they have withdrawn their candidacies in favor of me. I was very touched by
their gesture and confidence but I still did not announce my candidacy.

"I believe we should not be influenced by political elections. This is not a
political election, but unfortunately, people have turned it into a political
election. They have politicized it. I do not like to see this in our Church.

"If we are an Orthodox and Apostolic Church, it is very clear how the
elections should be done. We have a College of Bishops, those who are the
successors of the Holy Apostles in this age and time. The bishops should come
together in prayer, seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and then they
should cast their votes amongst themselves to prepare a slate of three
candidates who are most acceptable by all. And then, that three-name slate
should be presented to the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, which would then
elect one of the three most favorable ones. If this would have happened, we
would not have had this kind of dirty politics in this whole process and we
would have had a more spiritually-centered election -- less propaganda in the
media and more reliance on the Spirit working in our Church.

"This is what I wished and suggested to many of our bishops who were in
favor. However, some bishops, including the Primate of Yerevan, were not in
favor of preparing such a slate of three names fearing that their candidate
would not make the list. If, indeed, the favorite candidate of this or that
group of bishops were not included in the list of three, the delegates would
have given it serious consideration.

"I told the bishops I would not run as a candidate, but in the last week of
the election, I would consider it if I were nominated by the College of
Bishops, in the manner I explained earlier. Obviously, since such a process
did not take place and such a slate did not emerge from the bishops meeting
yesterday [25 October], I have not considered myself a candidate. As I said
it five months ago, and repeated it last month in New York, I do not have the
ambition. I would have accepted such a proposal only if I were nominated by
the College of Bishops on a three-name slate. I would have accepted it as a
duty to perform because of the oath that I have taken as a priest of the
church, but not because I like the fringe benefits of the office."

AIM: Since such a process did not materialize in the College of Bishops, does
that mean that you had less support among the bishops than thought?

"That's not true. If fact, the Archbishop of Yerevan would have had the least
number of votes among the bishops and perhaps would not have made the
three-name slate. I believe this is why they argued that we do not have
by-laws or church rules today that call for such a process of selection. They
said we have the 1945 by-laws to elect a Catholicos. But no mention was made
of the fact that the by-laws were prepared by the Communists and imposed on
the Church. And because they did not respect the church, the Council of
Bishops simply did not exist.

"Now Armenia is a free and independent country and it is time that the Church
functions as a church. And the Church cannot be a church without the Council
of Bishops. You cannot just go on appointing people as delegates and give
them the steering wheel of the church. If the Church is Orthodox and
Apostolic, then the spiritual leaders of the church are the bishops. The
highest legislative body is the National Ecclesiastical Assembly (NEA), but
the highest spiritual authority in the church is the Council of Bishops.
Currently, the Council of Bishops is completely disregarded. In fact, in the
liturgy of the Armenian Church, the "Holy and Orthodox Bishops" of the Church
are mentioned before the name of the Catholicos is mentioned. Which means,
the Catholicos, in theory at least and I hope in praxis one day, is
accountable to the Council of Bishops and then to the National Ecclesiastical


Special Report 27 October 1999
1. Deputy Who Escaped Tells What Happened in the Parliament Prime Minister and Chairman of National Assembly Killed during Shooting
2. Three Gunmen from the Same Family

1. Deputy Who Escaped Tells What Happened in the Parliament
Prime Minister and Chairman of National Assembly Killed during Shooting

YEREVAN (AIM Magazine 27.10.99) -- At 5:06 p.m. Yerevan, several
gunmen, armed with automatic weapons, stormed the National Assembly of
the Republic of Armenia and started to shoot randomly creating chaos
in the hall of parliament which was in session. The Prime Minister and
his government ministers were in attendance as the parliament's
regular "Question and Answer" was in session.

AIM spoke to National Assembly Deputy Samvel Toumanian who was able to
escape from the siege while helping a fellow deputy who needed medical
attention. When the gunmen allowed for stretchers to be brought up to
the door of the Assembly hall, Toumanian risked getting up and asking
the gunmen to allow him to help the wounded.

According to Toumanian, when the gunmen stormed the parliament, their
leader Nairi (male) Hunanian told the deputies that they "have come to
kill them all."

Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, who was at the podium addressing the
assembly at the time of the siege, tried to speak with the terrorists,
but the gunmen turned and shot him from a distance while "telling him
to shut up."

Toumanian described how one gunman went down the aisle where the
wounded Prime Minister fell and fired an entire caay, in a live
telephone conversation TV channel AI+ said that except for Vazgen
Sargsian, all the others were "accidental victims." The gunmen had
specific intent to kill the Prime Minister.

Among the ten people killed during the shooting are ministers Leonard
Petrossian and Yuri Bakhshian and Deputy Henrik Abrahamian, former
editor of "Hayastan" newspaper who died of heart attack while a

Within few hours, the gunmen allowed the wounded to be transported to

"We are not terrorists, because we do not have demands," said Hunanian
during the same live broadcast. "We did this because any Prime
Minister in the future should know what will happen to them if they do
not serve the nation," explained the 34-year-old former journalist for
Yerkir, the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun daily in Armenia.

He said that the negotiations with the President's representatives are
continuing and that the ordeal should soon end "peacefully." He ended
his conversation with the AI+ anchor with these words: "I regret that
this had to happen. But we need such a major event in our nation so
that we wake up and see what is really happening."

When asked how they were able to bring weapons into the parliament
building, Hunanian said "With the help of God."

At 2:00 a.m Yerevan time, the gunmen were still holding 50 hostages in
the National Assembly hall.

The bodies of the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the National
Assembly were removed from the hall at 10:00 p.m. local time, about
five hours after the shooting started, Russian TV reported.

Meanwhile, the President's office stated that the parliament building
is surrounded with security forces and all measures have been taken to
deal with the ordeal until its resolution.

2. Three Gunmen from the Same Family

YEREVAN (AIM Magazine 27.10.99) -- The siege of the National Assembly
hall (Wednesday, 5:15 Yerevan time), where the Armenian Parliament was
meeting with the Prime Minister and a large number of government
ministers was led by a 34-year-old history graduate and journalist,
Nairi (male) Hunanian, a former ARF member. (The ARF Central Executive
Committee of Armenia in an official statement said that Hunanian was
expelled from the party for committing "immoral acts.")

Among the five in the group is Garen Hunanian, the younger brother of
Nairi and their uncle Vram Hunanian.

While the exact method of entry into the parliament compound is not
clear yet, all five gunmen had permits to enter the building -- one as
a journalist the others as guests.

The sound of gunfire stopped at 7:45 p.m. Yerevan time. It was
reported that the security police arrived at the scene at 6:30 p.m.,
almost one-and-a-half hours after the incident started.

A Looys correspondent Gagik Saradikian who was in the hall when the
shooting started said that the gunmen "looked normal and calm."
Initially, when they were asked what they demands were, the gunmen
said, "We want President Robert Kocharian to come here."

One of the young gunmen told Saradikian "don't worry, we are not
terrorists, we simply want this problem to be resolved."

It was reported on Armenian TV that Kocharian had gone to the
parliament building but did not go into the hall were the hostages
were taken. No details were available as to whether Kocharian spoke
with the gunmen or not.

Saradikian also reported that the gunmen did not object to the
television crew filming the incident. But, "When we went out," he
explained, "they took the video film from us and promised that they
will return it to us."

Some 50 deputies still remained hostage in the Assembly hall at 11:00
p.m. The gunmen allowed the wounded to be transported to hospitals.

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