President Robert Kocharian appears to have re-established his authority after a long tussle with left-wing forces in the military and the parliament. Armenian politics, always violent, have been in disarray since a small group of gunmen in a horrifying televised attack shot up a session of parliament last October. The carnage left Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Parliament Chairman Karen Demirchian and six other officials dead. Unlike the gunplay that has killed dozens of political, military and security figures over the past several years, the October massacre had no obvious political or financial motive.
After the October murders, President Kocharian named as prime minister Vazgen’s brother Aram Sarkisian, a political neophyte. The appointment emboldened Vazgen’s backers, largely pro-Russian military and business groups. These groups assembled a majority coalition in the parliament and forced Kocharian to abandon the peace talks he had begun, under U.S. and NATO sponsorship, with arch-enemy Azerbaijan. They also maneuvered to block a sale of the country’s electrical distribution network at a privatization auction for which no Russian bidders had qualified.
His power ebbing, Kocharian four months ago risked his office by firing Aram Sarkisian and the rest of the cabinet. When he threatened to dismiss the parliament as well, the left-wing coalition split, and a new majority came together that was willing to cooperate in forming a government more to the president’s liking.
The new government is paying more attention to Western interests and concerns. The minister of defense visited Washington last week; NATO’s secretary general will visit Yerevan in September. The foreign ministry in a recent statement said that “Armenia realizes Russia’s role in the region and the world but believes that it also needs to develop cooperation with other countries and with NATO…. NATO is the most influential and effective organization in the sphere of military and political security.” And the parliament reversed its earlier stand on privatization, approving a new auction of the country’s electric utilities in which the four bidders are American, French, Spanish and Swiss-Swedish. The Russians once again are out of the running.