Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 117

On June 15, Armenian President Robert Kocharian appointed by decree the members of the cabinet of ministers formed by Vazgen Sarkisian, whom Kocharian nominated on June 11 as prime minister (profile in the Monitor, June 14). Sarkisian is the leader of the Republican Party, which won a plurality of the parliamentary seats in the May 30 elections and controls, with its allies, the absolute majority of those seats (see the Monitor, June 4, 9).

Composed of twenty-five ministers–four more than its predecessor–the new cabinet includes only five nominees from political parties, three of whom are republicans. The People’s Party, supposedly the coequal ally of the Republican Party in the Unity bloc, holds only one ministry, of secondary significance at that (the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications). These ratios underscore, first, the importance of personal rather than formal party ties in Armenia’s politics, and, second, the subordinate position of the People’s Party to the Republican Party–a position also reflected in the unbalanced apportionment of parliamentary seats within the Unity bloc.

Sarkisian’s handpicked successor as defense minister, Major General Vagharshak Harutiunian, has until now been Armenia’s representative to both the Russian Defense Ministry and the CIS Military Cooperation Staff in Moscow. His appointment as defense minister reflects both Sarkisian’s clout and the close Armenian-Russian military relationship.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and National Security, headed until now by Serge Sarkisian, has been divided into two separate ministries: National Security (headed by Serge Sarkisian) and Internal Affairs (headed by Suren Abrahamian). Abrahamian has until now been the mayor of Yerevan and is loyal to Vazgen Sarkisian. The breakup of this “super-ministry” represents Vazgen Sarkisian’s victory over his rival Serge Sarkisian and, indirectly, over Kocharian, who is closely linked to Serge. President Kocharian had, furthermore, discreetly encouraged Serge Sarkisian’s initiative to sponsor a political party, “Law-Governed Country” [Orinats Yerkir] in the recent election, hoping to counterbalance Vazgen Sarkisian’s Republicans. But Law-Governed Country performed poorly in the election and complained that Republican-controlled authorities had rigged the returns.

Leonard Petrosian, former prime minister of the unrecognized government of Karabakh from 1994 to 1998, is the minister for emergency situations in the new cabinet. His appointment strengthens official Yerevan’s “Karabakh” faction, which is led by Kocharian and Serge Sarkisian, natives of that region.

Vardan Oskanian retains the foreign affairs portfolio he has held since 1998. The nonpartisan Armen Darbinian, prime minister of the predecessor government and a free-market reformer, heads the Economics Ministry in the new government. Another reformer, Levon Barkhudarian, returns to the Finance Ministry which he had headed in 1993-97, before his term as Armenian ambassador to Canada. Pavel Ghaltakhchian stays on as minister of privatization. This is an encouraging sign in the wake of vicious attacks on the minister in connection with the sale of the Yerevan Brandy Company to Pernod Ricard of France (see the Monitor, May 27).

The leftist-nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun retains the Culture and Youth Affairs Ministry but loses the Education Ministry in the new government. That reduction is almost certainly a consequence of Dashnak’s alignment with Kocharian in the contest which is developing between the president and the prime minister (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika Armenia, June 15-16).