On October 27, gunmen burst into Armenia's parliament and shot and killed the country's Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarksyan (Sarkissian), and seven others. Reverberations from the events caused a delay in peace process negotiations over the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakgh region, threw the country into a security crisis, and resulted in the resignations of several government officials.

In the wake of these events LNS contacted Gershon Bourshtein, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Armenia, concerning the welfare of the Jewish community there. Here are some snippets of that conversation:

Jews have lived in Armenia since the sixth century, though the population waxed and waned over the years. In the 1920s and '30s many Jews who fled the more urban parts of the Soviet Union made Armenia their home.

Following Armenia's political isolation between 1992 and 1994, and owing to desperate social conditions like no electricity and heat, more than 6,000 Jews left during that time for Israel.

Today there are only a few hundred Jews left. "The Jewish community in Armenia is 'too small' to be of great interest to most Jewish organizations," Gershon Bourshtein says sadly.

Chabad-Lubavitch has maintained a presence in Armenia throughout the 1990s, establishing a Chabad House there in 1995, which has been attracting an increasing number of Jews to its programs.

The Chabad House in Yerevan hosts free meals, tends to the needs of the elderly Jewish population, and offers regular courses in Hebrew, Jewish tradition and history. Religious services and special events are conducted year round. On Purim of 1999, for example, more than 150 people attended the Megillah reading and celebration at night, 300 participated in megillah readings the following day, and 120 pensioners received Mishoalach Manot, the traditional Purim gift of sweets and fruits. Similar numbers are recorded during other holidays as well.

Bourshtein notes that a new generation in Armenia is turning to Jewish religious observance, and that the community is successful in producing more of its own kosher supplies today. But financial prospects are not very good. He would like to offer interesting programs for young people between the ages of 18 and 25, for instance, but is restrained for economic reasons. He cautions that the absence of such programs encourages assimilation or, in better cases, drives them to leave for Israel.

He would also like to resume publication of a community newspaper.

Prospects for the future are unclear, Bourshtein says. He is concerned that the events of October 27 may alter the direction of Armenia's development.

Bourshtein reports that though recent events did not directly threaten the safety of the Jewish community, by creating instability within the country, they may have further threatened an already dire situation in terms of the availability of resources for Jewish life there.

"Until the tragic events the general politics led toward development of organizational structures," Bourshtein explains. "But no one can tell what will happen tomorrow."

In the meantime, Bourshtein, with the help of Chabad-Lubavitch's Ohr Avner Foundation, will continue to do what he can to help every member of the Jewish community, materially as well as spiritually.