Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 87

Armenian President Robert Kocharian yesterday dismissed his powerful rivals, Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, from their posts. Kocharian’s move caps a series of successful maneuvers by which the embattled president managed to wrest the political initiative and gain the psychological advantage over his opponents in government and in parliament (see the Monitor, April 27). The president tasked the chief of staff, Mikael Harutiunian (no relation to Vagharshak), to serve as acting defense minister; the prime minister’s post remains vacant for now. The government’s powers thus lapse automatically. Aram Sarkisian’s government, a coalition of economic and military interest groups, had been in power since November 1999, when Aram took over from his elder brother Vazgen Sarkisian in the wake of the October 27, 1999 assassination of political leaders.

In a communique to the nation, Kocharian accused the cabinet of ministers collectively, and Sarkisian nominally, of engaging in “political intrigues as a way of life,” refusing to cooperate with the president, failing to tackle the country’s “snowballing economic problems” and jeopardizing Armenia’s international standing. Kocharian also accused his military opponents, Vagharshak Harutiunian specifically included, of politicizing the armed forces and thereby threatening their unity. “The present situation threatens the very foundation of our statehood,” Kocharian warned, placing the onus of responsibility on his rivals. He defended his decision to dismiss them as an urgently needed corrective action in the national interest.

In the same move, Kocharian offered to work with the parliamentary majority in forming a new government and assured that majority that he intends to cooperate with it. The Sarkisian government commanded the loyalty of approximately two-thirds of the National Assembly’s deputies. Elements in that majority initiated the impeachment of the president last week. Kocharian’s cooperation offer represents an attempt at dividing that majority by separating parts of it from the pro-government core.

Under the constitution, the president has the right to dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections not earlier than one year into the legislature’s term of office. That deadline is coming up on May 31. The president is now, in effect, offering the parliamentary majority a deal whereby he would refrain from exercising that right if the parliamentary majority gives up the impeachment threat and cooperates with the president in forming a mutually acceptable government.

Such a turn of events would seriously weaken the interest groups which coalesced around the Sarkisian clan and the pro-Russian military hierarchy. Those two wings of the party of power moved last week to reinforce Armenia’s already close links with Russia. Vagharshak Harutiunian discussed with Russia’s Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in Moscow the logistical and financial aspects of transferring to Armenia some of the Russian troops which are due to withdraw from Georgia. Those troops would supplement, not replace, Russian troops already based in Armenia (see the Monitor, May 1-2). Harutiunian was visiting Moscow together with Sarkisian and could not have conducted those talks without the blessing of the prime minister, who owed his recent rise largely to the army’s support. And also last week, the Sarkisian-controlled parliamentary majority voted to rescind the privatization tender for the country’s electricity distribution networks, just days after a Russian consortium had failed to qualify, leaving only Western companies in the contest. Kocharian, backed by certain Western missions in Yerevan, had supported the privatization of the networks by financially and technologically strong Western companies. Last but not least, hardliners in the parliamentary majority–and also outside it–criticized Kocharian’s willingness to negotiate directly with Azerbaijan toward a possible compromise solution over Karabakh.

In Yerevan yesterday, the visiting chairwoman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Helle Degn, publicly if obliquely agreed with Kocharian’s thesis that Armenia urgently needs to avoid “the virtual international isolation” and to “do away with the corrupt clan system” (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenian National Television, May 2).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions