By Astghik Bedevian
President Robert Kocharian was poised to appoint Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, the longtime chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, as Armenia’s new defense on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who held the key post until being named to head the ruling cabinet, told RFE/RL in the morning that a corresponding presidential decree will be signed and made public later in the day.
Kocharian’s office made no such announcements as of 7 pm Yerevan time. Major presidential decisions are often publicized just minutes before the main news program of state television, which airs at 9 pm local time.
Harutiunian effectively confirmed his impending appointment as he spoke with RFE/RL during a morning visit to the genocide memorial in Yerevan. Asked whether he plans any changes in the military, he said, “The army is a structure that always needs change. But if everyone is doing a good job, why should you change anything?”
Harutiunian has already performed defense minister’s duties since Sarkisian replaced the late Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on April 4. The 61-year-old general served in the Soviet armed forces before moving to Armenia and joining its newly formed army in 1992, at the height of the war with Azerbaijan. He was appointed as chief of army staff and first deputy defense minister by then President Levon Ter-Petrosian two years later.
Kocharian was widely expected to appoint Harutiunian on the last day of a 20-day constitutional deadline for the formation of Sarkisian’s de facto caretaker cabinet, which has to step down right after the May 12 parliamentary elections. He re-appointed earlier this month all other government ministers, who resigned following Markarian’s sudden death on March 25.
Few observers believe that Harutiunian will be re-appointed as minister in the event of the Sarkisian-led Republican Party’s victory in the elections. Armenian press reports have said Seyran Ohanian, commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army, and former Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian are more likely to get the job.
Aghabekian resigned from his post and was discharged from the Armed Forces in February to contest the elections as a candidate of another governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The move fueled speculation that Sarkisian will pick Aghabekian as the next defense minister in exchange for a Dashnaktsutyun endorsement of his anticipated presidential bid.
“We congratulate and wish [Harutiunian] success, but continue to believe that Artur Aghabekian would make the best defense minister,” Hrant Markarian, a top Dashnaktsutyun leader, told RFE/RL. “I think they don’t find it appropriate to give [the post] to Dashnaktsutyun in the pre-election period.”
Markarian said Aghabekian will “likely” become minister after the elections, but insisted that his party has not cut any power-sharing deals with Kocharian and Sarkisian yet.