By Karine Kalantarian, Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan
On Monday, Armenian President Robert Kocharian stripped the former Minister of Defense, Vagharshak Harutyunian from the rank of Lieutenant-General. President Kocharian fired Vagharshak Harutyunian from his post of Defense Minister two years ago, with the entire cabinet of Aram Sarkissian, who had been appointed as prime minister, after his brother, Vazgen, was killed in the Parliamentary attack in October 1999. Vagharshak Harutyunian and Aram Sarkissian later joined the anti-Kocharian opposition.
The presidential decree was issued on the basis of a new law signed by the president on July 18, according to which the Commander in Chief of the armed forces can demote the military rank of senior officers as a disciplinary measure. It is not clear yet, if certain procedures should precede the presidential decision or not. In case of lower ranking officers, a court decision is needed as a basis for demotions.
After his demotion, the former defense minister now has a military rank of Major-General, the press spokesman of Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkissian told RFE/RL on Tuesday. But according to independent law experts in Armenia, the country's constitution only gives the president the right to elevate the rank of officers, without any stipulation of an authority to also demote them.
The opposition was quick to condemn Kocharian's decision to demote
Vagharshak Harutyunian. The leader of the "Hanrapetutyun" party, Aram Sarkissian told RFE/RL that President Kocharian in fact idiculed the very essence of the state, government, parliament and other institutions of the country by his decree. The other outspoken critic of the Armenian government, former Mayor Albert Bazeyan said, that the president wanted to show the officers of the Armenian Army, that everything is in his hands and that he can do whatever he wants with them, so it is better to fully obey him.
The demoted General also was defiant vowing to continue his cooperation with the opposition. Vagharshak Harutyunian harshly criticized Robert Kocharian for his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace negotiations and indifference towards the trial of those who perpetrated the October 27,1999 attack on the parliament. The General told RFE/RL on Tuesday, that he asked for retirement after he lost
his job as Defense Minister, but the government and the president ignored his request. "For two years I have not received neither salary nor pension". The General also said that he is still on active duty, since the government didn't respond to his request for retirement.