By Karine Kalantarian, Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan
Last Monday, the government newspaper 'Hayastani Hanrapetutyun' reported that President Robert Kocharian stripped former Minister of Defense, Vagharshak Harutiunian from the rank of Lieutenant-General. However, the paper gave no details of the presidential decree and there was no clear hint at what could be expected about the fate of the demoted general.
As reported by the official newspaper, 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. The Armenian media had also no clear clue whether the president stripped the former defense minister of all his military ranks or he was just demoted from the rank of Lieutenant General to Major General.
Speaking to RFE/RL on Friday, the head of the presidential press service, Hasmik Petrosian said that the decree stripped Vagharshak Harutiunian of all his military ranks, which means that he is no longer a military person. The presidential decision reportedly is entitled "Decree on stripping General Lieutenant Vagharshak Harutiunian from all military ranks".
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Defense Ministery, Seyran Shahsuvarian told RFE/RL on Friday that the decree had not yet reached his ministry and he was not able to give the exact details about Vagharshak Harutiunian's demotion. However, the spokesman said that the presidential press service has informed him that General Harutiunian has lost all his military ranks.
Victor Dallakian, the chairman of the parliamentary commission on judiciary issues told RFE/RL that the country's constitution gives the president the right to only elevate the rank of officers, without any stipulation of any authority to also demote them. But another expert on Armenia's basic law, a member of the National Democratic opposition party Vartan Poghosian told RFE/RL today that "the constitutions of other countries, as is the case in our constitution, stipulate only the authority of the commander-in-chief to elevate military officers but that also means a
right of demotion".
However, according to Vartan Poghosian, the presidential decree was issued in violation of the law regulating military service in the Armenian army, because the law gives authority to the president to demote military officers only on the active duty. Vagharshak Harutiunian could not have been on active duty, after he was fired from his post of Minister of Defense in May 2000. Considering the fact that Harutiunian's letter requesting a retirement from active duty was ignored by authorities, he could not be considered as a serviceman on active duty. The law on military service says that after two months, a resigned military officer is no longer a serviceman on active duty. Therefore, Mr. Poghosian believes that while the presidential degree was constitutional, it was in violation of other laws and regulations.
Explaining the decree of President Kocharian, presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told Armenian media on Friday, that the main reason behind demotion of Genaral Vagharshak Harutiunian was the fact that former defense minister was heavily involved in politics and the president thinks that servicemen have no rights to participate in demonstrations, which are demanding the resignation of the commander-in-chief. "Now he is free to say whatever he wants", Vahe Gabrielian said.
President Kocharian fired Vagharshak Harutiunian from his post of Defense Minister two years ago, with the entire cabinet of Aram Sarkisian, who had been appointed as prime minister, after his brother, Vazgen, was killed in the Parliamentary attack in October 1999. Vagharshak Harutiunian and Aram Sarkisian later joined the anti-Kocharian opposition.
The opposition was quick to condemn Kocharian's decision to demote Vagharshak Harutiunian. The leader of the "Hanrapetutyun" party, Aram Sarkisian told RFE/R on Tuesday, that President Kocharian in fact ridiculed the very essence of the state, government, parliament and other institutions of the country by his decree.
The demoted General also was defiant vowing to continue his cooperation with the opposition. Vagharshak Harutiunian 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.