Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 114

On June 11 Armenian President Robert Kocharian nominated Vazgen Sarkisian as prime minister–a direct consequence of the Unity bloc’s victory in the May 30 parliamentary elections. Sarkisian is relinquishing the post of defense minister only to become the country’s civilian strongman. His military associates are retaining control over the Defense Ministry while Sarkisian himself continues as head of the Republican Party and informal head of the Yerkrapah Union, a political-paramilitary organization closely linked to the Republican Party in the Unity bloc. Sarkisian, moreover, now largely controls the parliamentary majority, many of whose members owe their election directly or indirectly to the electoral machine he has put together.

Born in 1959, Sarkisian was trained as a sports teacher, embarked on a budding literary career, was admitted to the Writers’ Union and worked as editor of a Komsomol-sponsored journal. In 1988 he was one of the founders of the Karabakh movement, won election to Armenia’s first noncommunist parliament in 1990, became the country’s first defense minister, and commanded volunteers from Armenia proper in the Karabakh war against Azerbaijan. A minister of state in 1993-95, re-appointed defense minister in 1995, Sarkisian is generally believed to have been instrumental in rigging the 1995 parliamentary election and the 1996 presidential election. He played a key role in the 1998 ouster of president Levon Ter-Petrosian and the selection of Robert Kocharian as acting president, ahead of the pre-term presidential election held that year. Vazgen Sarkisian is Armenia’s closest approximation of a kingmaker, underscoring the decisive role of the military and security establishment in the country’s politics (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Azg, Respublika Armeniya, June 11-12).