Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

7 June 2004

Kocharian Aide Wants Another Karabakh-Born Leader For Armenia

By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan

Garnik Isagulian, President Robert Kocharian's recently appointed national security adviser, said on Saturday that Armenia's next president should also be originally from Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing that it is a "vital territory" for all Armenians.

"Without Karabakh Armenia can not breathe, no matter how many borders you reopen," Isagulian told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan.

The adviser did not specify whom he would like to see succeed Kocharian and when. Still, the remarks could be interpreted by some local commentators as another indication that Kocharian's preferred successor is Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the second most powerful government official in Armenia and also a native of Karabakh.

The two men led the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic during its successful war with Azerbaijan before moving to higher positions in Yerevan, with Sarkisian appointed defense minister in 1993 and Kocharian prime minister in 1997. Some leaders of the Armenian opposition frequently attack them as the heads of the "Karabakh clan" allegedly governing the country.

Armenia's next presidential elections are to take place in 2008, and its existing constitution bars Kocharian from contesting them for a third term in office. Neither the president nor his top lieutenant, who have been busy dealing with an opposition campaign of street protests for the past two months, have shed light on their long-term political plans so far.

Isagulian joined the presidential administration in early April to take up a position that has been vacant for the past decade. A retired officer of the Soviet-era KGB secret police, he entered the political arena in the early 1990s, getting elected to Armenia's first post-Communist parliament and joining the then opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). He was expelled from the party about two years after it was controversially banned in 1994 by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and emerged from a political oblivion three years ago to set up his own nationalist group called the National Security Party.

Isagulian has since been an outspoken supporter of Kocharian and detractor of his political opponents. He on Saturday strongly defended the recent government crackdown on the opposition, alleging that the latter has attempted to stage a coup and labeled Kocharian as a "murderer."

Ironically, Isagulian had himself faced "terrorism" and coup charges in July 1995 along with 31 members of Dashnaktsutyun, including Vahan Hovannisian, who is currently the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament. But unlike them, Isagulian went into hiding and escaped arrest and trial. He remained on the run until Ter-Petrosian's resignation in February 1998.

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