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    President Kocharian dismisses senior ambassador
    in continuing power consolidation.

Armenian News Network / Groong
April 21, 2000

By Groong Research & Analysis Group

On Wednesday, April 20, 2000, President Robert Kocharian dismissed
Armen Sarkissian, Armenia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the
country's most senior diplomat in Europe.

President Kocharian did not provide any explanation for Ambassador
Sarkissian's dismissal.  Foreign Ministry sources only said that his
sacking was in line with recent efforts to reduce ambassadorial
tenures to a "maximum of four years", but Sarkissian's sacking reveals
a deeper political malaise in Armenia.

The new "four year" tenure policy falls short of explaining the true
motives. Mr. Armen Sarkissian returned to diplomatic service
one-and-a-half years ago after a two-year gap between his first and
second ambassadorial appointments. Between his resignation as Prime
Minister in March 1997 and his reappointment as ambassador,
Mr. Sarkissian underwent extensive medical treatment, following which
he worked as senior advisor for the European Bank for Reconstruction
and Development (EBRD) for a year.

In March, 2000, President Kocharian's political maneuvers started by
dividing the ranks of his arch-rival Yerkrapah Union, which enjoys the
patronage of Prime Minister Aram Sarkisyan. The president broke the
"ideological consensus" within the Union by promoting two of its key
figures to high military posts. Next, he issued a decree reiterating
his constitutional prerogative to name all senior military officials
and reshuffled the government after having struck up unspecified
agreements with defectors from the opposition. Having regained control
over the country's internal political levers, Mr. Kocharian is now
turning his attention to neutralizing the "second tier" of potential
threats to his power.

Ambassador Sarkisian's contacts in England and large network of
associates in Europe over the last 16 years have proven to be valuable
resources for Armenia and its institutional development. An
accomplished physicist and author of numerous publications on computer
modeling, theoretical physics and political science, he has been a
visiting professor at the Universities of Cambridge and London since
1984, concurrently with his ambassadorial appointment.

Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal comes at a time when, as Armenpress
reported, "the preparations for The Economic Conference on Armenia in
London are in full swing." Ambassador Sarkissian has been a leading
force behind the organization of a large Business Forum in London,
scheduled for October of this year, with the participation of the
leaders of World Bank, EBRD, IFC and other international financial
institutions, corporate investors in the Diaspora and senior
executives of multinational corporations. Last month, Mr. Sarkissian
was in Moscow for negotiations with business leaders concerning the
London Forum.

More than any other Armenian mission abroad, Mr. Sarkissian and his
embassy succeeded in their pursuit to provide fuel for developing
Armenia's economy. Through direct contacts with large multinational
companies, his personal and professional relations with international
financial institutions and a number of large private investors,
Ambassador Sarkissian created significant interest among investors to
Armenia in recent years, raising the United Kingdom to rank first
among foreign investments in Armenia while becoming its third largest
trade partner.  He was also behind the idea and establishment of the
Armenian Development Agency and its London office, which will be
formally inaugurated in October.

In light of these accomplishments and at a time when direct foreign
investments in Armenia have plunged to critical levels and the
country's image abroad has been marred by recurring political
upheavals, Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal can only be explained as a move
on Mr. Kocharian's political chess board, as his ability to lead the
country out of its worsening political, social and economic decline
becomes a major source of concern in Armenia and abroad.

As the situation worsened in the republic since the events of October
27, political circles and the media in Armenia have at times called
for Mr. Kocharian's resignation and continue the sporadic searches for
individuals who could lead Armenia out of the existing political
quagmire. On the "short list" of leaders - with integrity and "clean"
character - Mr. Sarkissian is seen as a most suitable person who can
do the job. But while Mr. Sarkissian's name has been discussed in and
outside of Armenia as a possible successor for Mr. Kocharian, AIM
Magazine reported him to have privately, and publicly stated that he
is not seeking such a post.

Nevertheless, unlike many other names circulated as possible
presidential prospects for Armenia, Mr. Sarkissian poses a real
challenge to Mr. Kocharian's grip on power. The president, having
succeeded Mr. Sarkissian as prime minister, is closely familiar with
his predecessor's leadership, work style, and especially the support
he enjoys among the population, political actors and the Diaspora. And
while the exact reasons for Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal from his
diplomatic post remain to be seen, it's clear that Mr. Kocharian is
eliminating strong competitors to his rule, even outside Armenia.

In March 1997, when he was appointed Prime Minister of Armenia,
Mr. Kocharian did not present a program, but said he would continue
outgoing Prime Minister Sarkissian's program and policies. The key
elements of that program were to fight corruption, reform Armenia's
legal system, freedom of the press and, most essentially, the
"unification of the whole nation." Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal hints at
the president's retreat from these national goals.

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