The Passions That Led to Armenian Shootings

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Guns blazed in Armenia's parliament Wednesday, leaving at least six, including the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, dead and scores wounded. But the differences between the alleged gunmen — who are still holding hostages in the building — and the government they attacked may simply be a matter of degree. "There's speculation that this is a coup attempt by elements who want to take an even more hard-line stance on the dispute with Azerbaijan than the present government," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two former Soviet republics fought a war over the status of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located inside Azerbaijan, which ended in an inconclusive cease-fire in 1994.

"Nagorno-Karabakh is the primary issue in Armenian politics," says Meier. "It's also a major concern for the U.S., which has taken a more active role in this dispute than in most others in the former Soviet Union." That much was clear from the fact that Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott held five hours of intense talks on the issue with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Sarkisian only hours before the shooting. Talbott left Yerevan before the incident in parliament. There may be an ironic element in the coup attempt if it proves to be the work of nationalists looking to take a harder line over Nagorno-Karabakh. After all, President Kocharian came to power precisely by accusing his predecessor of being soft on Azerbaijan. Now he may be experiencing a case of what goes around comes around.