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New Appointments to Replace Murdered Armenian Officials

On the surface at least, constitutional order has been preserved in Armenia in the wake of the October 27 attack on the Yerevan parliament - but tensions with the military continue.
By Ara Tadevosian

Armenian President Robert Kocharian appointed his new prime minister Wednesday, the day after the country's parliament elected their new speaker and two deputy speakers - all successors to men killed in the October 27 assault on the Yerevan parliament.


The dead were Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchian and his two deputies, Jury Bakhshian and Ruben Miroyan.


Sarkisian's successor is his younger brother, Aram, a 38-year-old building engineer who worked as the Director of the Ararat Cement Factory. He is new to politics, having being elected to parliament on the Republican Party ticket only in May. Like his brother, Aram fought as a volunteer in the war against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabkh.


The new speaker was elected with his two deputies during an extraordinary parliamentary session on Tuesday. He is Armen Khachatrian, who previously served as chairman of the National Assembly's external relations committee and who was wounded during the attack last week.


His new deputies are Tigran Torosian and Gagik Aslanian. While Khachatrian and Aslanian are both members of the People's party, Torosian is a colleague of Aram's. The two parties formed the Unity bloc, which won parliamentary elections last spring. According to Yerevan observers, Khachatrian is acceptable to all political leaders, including Kocharian.


Top parliamentary official, Gagik Aslanian, reports that Kocharian had considered four candidates to replace the murdered prime minister before settling upon Aram Sarkisian. He added that most deputies approved of the brother's nomination. The three who lost out were the Mayor of Yerevan, Albert Bazeyan, the Industry Minister, Vahan Shirghanian, and State Income Minister, Smbat Ajvazian.


Andranik Margarian, the leader of the Unity faction in Parliament, devastated by the gun attack, has already thanked all factions and groups of the National Assembly for their unanimous decision to support the successors' nominations.


Thus, on the surface at least, constitutional order was re-established in Armenia and the country seems to be recovering from the parliamentary attack.


But the transition of power has been far from smooth. Immediately after the killings, the Defence Ministry announced the army was taking over direct responsibility for the country's security and demanded the dismissal of the Prosecutor-General and the Interior and Security ministers. While they were reported to have submitted their resignation, Kocharian refused to accept them.


The former head of Armenia's special services, David Shakhnazarian, has acknowledged that he and former Interior Minister Vano Siradegian, who is under investigation by an official inquiry into political assassinations, met with the military the night of the shooting. Shakhnazarian refused to either confirm or deny that he had a hand in drafting the Defence Ministry's statement.


Shakhnazarian believes the parliamentary chamber killings represent "organised and planned terrorist activities, behind which stand definite powers" and gave his support to those calling for the heads of the interior and security ministries. Moreover, he has gone one step further in asking for Kocharian's own resignation.


Kocharian has also refused to accept the resignation of one of his closet allies - the National Security Minister Serge Sarkisian (no relation).


He says that the most influential political groups have all pledged support for his policies after the killings and that he has no intention of resigning. Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has meanwhile voiced his own support for Kocharian.


Some politicians in Yerevan believe that the resignation letters were sent simply to calm influential army commanders, though they continue to demand the President gets rid of his senior team.


Artashes Geghamian, leader of the Parliamentary faction Right and Accord says that the "army commanders should realise that not only they, but the President lost a battle comrade and ally. Should Kocharian fulfil their wish [and dismiss ministers or accept their resignation] at such a delicate time, regional neighbours like Azerbaijan and Turkey would regard this as tantamount to a military coup".


According to Alexander Iskandaryan, the Director of the Moscow-based Caucasian Studies think-tank, recent events in Armenia remind him of a military coup in the making. "It is dangerous when the leader of the country cannot make unpopular decisions without fearing for the future of his power".


Some Yerevan-based analysts believe that the latest events underline the great divide which separates the political and military leadership from the ordinary people.


Some politicians have also expressed concern at another interpretation of events circulating in Yerevan. According to that version the parliamentary attack may be linked in to the long-running peace negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia on a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh.


The Foreign Affairs Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Naira Melkumian, has expressed concern that the killings could disrupt the difficult peace process.


Melkumian told reporters on November 3 that "the Karabakh factor has nothing to do with the latest events. " However, she said, Karabakh remains Armenia's main national interest, so there could be consequences.


In Azerbaijan the view is that Armenia will not be able to fulfil a draft agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been expected at the coming OSCE Istanbul Summit (Nov.18-19). The head of Azerbaijan's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Rza Ibadov, has said the chances of signing "are doubtful", and "will depend on the development of events in Armenia".


US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said during his last visit to the region - he left only hours before the attack on the parliament - that further talks were needed between the members of the OSCE Minsk Group of nations seeking a resolution to the Karabakh problem.


They want Armenia to politically recover from the traumas of October 27 first.


Ara Tadevosian is the Director of the Mediamax independent news agency in Yerevan.


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