Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 49

Kocharian, 54, was born in Karabakh and worked there as an electrical engineer, factory manager and lower-level Communist party functionary. Kocharian founded the Miatsum [Unification] organization that pursued Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan and merger with Armenia. While a Karabakh resident, and technically an Azerbaijani citizen, Kocharian was twice elected to the parliament of Armenia. He headed the unrecognized Karabakh republic as chairman of its Defense Committee and prime minister in 1992-94 and as president from 1994 to February 1997, when he moved to Yerevan as prime minister of Armenia.

Some political opponents and legal specialists have challenged Kocharian’s right to run for president of Armenia, because the constitution requires candidates to be citizens of Armenia with at least 10 years of continuous residence in the country. The Central Electoral Commission, however, accepted Kocharian’s argument that he met those qualifications on the basis of a December 1989 joint resolution by the legislatures of Armenia and Karabakh, which proclaimed the unification of the two territories. By deeming that resolution valid, Kocharian and the CEC probably settled the internal political issue, but may have laid Armenia open to future legal challenges, not least in the context of international negotiations on the Karabakh conflict.

Kocharian’s platform is important mainly for the position it takes on Karabakh. The front-runner candidate pledges to seek international acceptance of the Karabakh people’s right of self-determination and its existence "within secure borders and with permanent geographic links to the Motherland" [Armenia]. The formula implies permanent retention of certain areas seized by Armenian-Karabakh forces from Azerbaijan proper, outside Karabakh. In his recent statements to both internal and external audiences, Kocharian proposes to change the format of the OSCE-mediated negotiations by reducing Armenia’s profile and insisting on direct talks between Azerbaijan and Karabakh under the OSCE umbrella. Kocharian, unlike Ter-Petrosian, considers the current situation on the ground suitable because, whatever Karabakh’s formal status, Armenia and Karabakh live in practice as a single country behind secure defense lines.

On internal issues, besides ritualistic promises of social and economic betterment, Kocharian calls for amending the constitution in order to transfer some presidential powers to the cabinet of ministers and some central government powers to local authorities.

Having entered the presidential race as a national consensus candidate, Kocharian is in fact to some extent the candidate of the military and security leadership. Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and Internal Affairs and Security Minister Serge Sarkisian (not related to each other) support Kocharian’s candidacy and will probably deliver a large part of the uniformed services’ vote. Moreover, after positioning himself as a no-party candidate, Kocharian has received the endorsement of five nationalist parties, which last week formed the Justice and Union bloc to support his candidacy. The bloc intends to continue functioning after the election.

Two of this bloc’s parties are powerful. One of them, Yerkrapah [Paramilitary Volunteer] Union, is made up largely of volunteers from Armenia proper who fought in the Karabakh war. Closely linked to the Defense Ministry, Yerkrapah last month became the largest grouping in parliament, replacing the APNM in that role. The other main component of the Justice and Union bloc is the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun, the oldest and most distinguished Armenian party, still very influential in the diaspora, though not in Armenia itself, where it was suspended and repressed during Ter-Petrosian’s presidency. But Kocharian allowed the Dashnaks to continue operating freely in Karabakh. When he became acting president of Armenia, Kocharian re-legalized the party and arranged the release of Dashnaks jailed during Ter-Petrosian’s presidency. The two Sarkisians — who were instrumental in that repression — are now allied with the Dashnaks in the effort to elect Kocharian.

Kocharian seeks to build an even broader coalition of interests and constituencies. His campaign manager, the current Agriculture Minister Vladimir Movsisian, is a former Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party Central Committee. Former Armenian CP First Secretary Suren Harutiunian has endorsed Kocharian’s candidacy. And in an apparent overture to Armenian Americans, Kocharian last week appointed the influential U.S. Armenian Raffi Hovanissian as head of the Armenian government’s Information Department. (This profile draws mainly on recent reporting by the Armenian media. See tomorrow’s issue of the Monitor for profiles of other candidates).

Presidential Party Launched in Dushanbe.