By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed on Tuesday one of Armenia’s most powerful security officials close to his predecessor Robert Kocharian.
A brief statement by the president administration gave no reasons why Grigori Sarkisian, chief of the State Protection Service (SPS), was relieved of his duties. Nor did it say who will now run the agency responsible for the personal security of the country’s most high-ranking government officials.
Grigori Sarkisian told RFE/RL that he himself tendered his resignation “a couple of days ago” because “the president wanted so” and because he is “moving to another position.” But he claimed that he does not yet know what his next job will be. When asked whether he could be appointed as chief of the Armenian police, Sarkisian replied, “Probably not.”
Sarkisian has headed the SPS ever since its establishment in early 2004. He had previously been only in charge of Kocharian’s security detail. Like the former Armenian president, he is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Reports in the Armenian press have claimed that Sarkisian is increasingly at odds with Vache Ghazarian, a fellow Karabakh Armenian who has long been responsible for Serzh Sarkisian’s security. One newspaper critical of the government said on Tuesday that the new Armenian president distrusts the SPS chief and is about to sack him.
Grigori Sarkisian insisted, however, that his relationship with the president is “very good.” “I am a soldier of Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian,” he said. “I will always be by their side. As a soldier.”
Sarkisian, who gained substantial clout during Kocharian’s decade-long presidency, was fired amid lingering questions about his reportedly active involvement in the bloody suppression of anti-government demonstrations staged by Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of last February’s disputed presidential election. In particular, he was present at the pre-dawn dispersal on March 1 of Ter-Petrosian’s tent camp set up in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Ter-Petrosian, whose bodyguards are also officially listed as SPS employees, refused to leave the square and was forcibly driven home and placed under de facto house arrest by security officers. He claimed afterwards that the SPS chief personally twisted his arms and pushed him into his limousine.
Ter-Petrosian has also said that he negotiated with Kocharian later on March 1 through Sarkisian. The talks failed to prevent the more violent late-night clashes between opposition supporters and security forces which left at least ten people dead. Ter-Petrosian supporters consider Sarkisian one of the main organizers of the violence.
Grigori Sarkisian denied this in a rare statement issued earlier this month. He claimed that he went to Liberty Square to ensure Ter-Petrosian’s security and played no part in the violent dispersal of more than 2,000 supporters of the opposition leader camped there.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Sarkisian also denied any connection between his sacking and the deadly post-election unrest.