By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian’s closest and most influential adviser, Armen Gevorgian, was promoted over the weekend to become the new chief of the presidential administration.
The appointment was announced the day after the unexpected resignation of the previous chief of Kocharian’s staff, Artashes Tumanian. It is widely linked to Tumanian’s decision to set up a political party and contest next year’s parliamentary election.
Gevorgian has worked for Kocharian ever since the latter’s appointment in 1997 as prime minister of Armenia, becoming a key member of his inner circle. The 32-year-old has grown particularly influential in the last few years, reportedly wielding more power than Tumanian. In particular, he is thought to be personally overseeing the news coverage of Armenia’s main television stations loyal to Kocharian. He will also assume Tumanian’s task of overseeing implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects financed by the Lincy Foundation of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.
In addition, Gevorgian is reputed to have developed considerable business interests, with newspaper reports regularly linking him large-scale redevelopment projects in Yerevan. He could not be immediately reached for comment as his office did not return phone calls.
Gevorgian’s appointment was welcomed on Saturday by Aleksan Harutiunian, another Kocharian associate who managed the presidential staff in 1998-1998 and has run Armenia’s state television and radio for the past three years. “It did not come as a surprise for me,” he told reporters. “I think it was the right decision.”
Harutiunian dismissed speculation that Tumanian, 55, was relieved of his duties as a result of mounting friction with the chief presidential aide. “I don’t think it correspondents to reality,” said the official whom Gevorgian had allegedly squeezed out of the presidential palace in 2003.
Tumanian, meanwhile, insisted in weekend televised remarks that he himself decided to step down in order to concentrate on his new party called Nor Yerkir (New Country). Interviewed by RFE/RL earlier this month, he said Nor Yerkir will seek to make a strong showing in 2007 election and to “participate in the formation of the next government.”
A Nor Yerkir spokesman said Tumanian convened a meeting of the party’s governing board immediately after the announcement of his resignation but refused to give any details. The board’s composition has still not been made public, a fact which keeps observers guessing about Tumanian’s potential election allies.
The official explanation for Tumanian’s resignation was described as credible by leaders of Kocharian’s three-party governing coalition. “Setting up a political party is a difficult process,” said Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “He apparently couldn’t combine it [with his job].”
Mkrtchian also heaped praise on Gevorgian, referring to him as “one of our best professionals” who “commands the respect of the executive and legislative branches” of government.
“If the resignation was really not forced, then Tumanian’s move is understandable,” said Victor Dallakian of the opposition Artarutyun alliance, suggesting that the Nor Yerkir leader is distancing himself from the president. Another opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, speculated that Kocharian entrusted his staff to a “more reliable person” in anticipation of “dark days.”
(Photolur photo: Armen Gevorgian.)