Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenian Government in Disarray

Factions opposed to the president are unable to agree on a suitable candidate for the now vacant prime minister's job
By Mark Grigorian

The search for a new Armenian prime minister has triggered dramatic ructions in the Yerevan government.


The post became vacant on May 2 when President Robert Kocharian sacked Aram Sarkisian together with defence minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and effectively dismissed his entire cabinet. Now the nation waits on tenterhooks as Kocharian considers his options.


The sensational development has driven a rift through factions which oppose the president, particularly in the Yerkrapah association which unites veterans of the Karabakh war. Last week, General Arkady Ter-Tatevosian announced that he was planning to leave Yerkrapah to found a new union of veterans supporting President Kocharian.


Such a split would deal a severe blow to the union, founded by Vazgen Sarkisian, which, despite its official status as a non-governmental organisation, plays a vital role in Armenia's political life. Together with the Republican Party, Yerkrapah forms part of the Unity bloc, which represents the parliamentary majority.


Headed by the deputy defence minister, Manvel Grigorian, Yerkrapah members include Aram Sarkisian, Republican Party leader Andranik Markarian and the military prosecutor, Gagik Jhangirian.


Caught unawares by recent events, Yerkrapah factions are clearly unable to agree over the best candidate for prime minister.


Ruben Gevorkian, deputy of the National Assembly, says the union will meet to discuss the candidature of Andranik Markarian who has been proposed by the Republican Party. Some analysts say that, if Markarian is chosen, his appointment is a virtual certainty.


Other sources, however, believe Yerkrapah leaders would prefer to see Gagik Jhangarian in the prime minister's chair.


Jhangarian is currently leading the investigation into the political assassinations of October last year when five gunmen burst into the Armenian parliament and shot eight leading politicians, including the then prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian (brother of Aram).


Meanwhile, Robert Kocharian is keeping his cards close to his chest. It is thought he will wait another two weeks before appointing Sarkisian's successor. May 30 marks the end of the parliament's first year in office and, according to the Armenian constitution, the president can dismiss the body on this date.


The favourite for the president's nomination is Serge Sarkisian, presidential advisor and former security minister. Like Kocharian, Sarkisian originates from Nagorny Karabakh. In the recent past, the Unity bloc has called for Sarkisian's dismissal amid allegations that he was implicated in the October 27 massacre.


This development would present the parliament with a serious dilemma: it can either snub the majority bloc by accepting an undesirable candidate or risk being dismissed by President Kocharian.


Discontent is simmering. On May 9, the more radical members of Yerkrapah demanded Kocharian's resignation at a poignant meeting by the grave of their founder, Vazgen Sarkisian. Sources close to Yerkrapah say the union may eventually call for his impeachment.


On May 12, around 2,000 supporters of the right-wing opposition held a public meeting in Yerevan to present a list of similar demands.


One political analyst, who asked not to be named, told IWPR, "The situation is so hazardous that there is a real threat to the physical security of Armenia's top politicians."


Mark Grigorian is IWPR's project editor in Yerevan.