By Emil Danielyan
President Serzh Sarkisian has appointed Shavarsh Kocharian, a veteran politician who has long been in opposition to successive Armenian governments, as deputy minister of foreign affairs.
Sarkisian’s office gave no reason for the presidential decree signed at the weekend, and Kocharian declined a comment when contacted by RFE/RL on Monday. The appointment is bound to be widely linked to his effective support for the new Armenian president and strong criticism of the latter’s political opponents led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Kocharian, 60, had begun his political career in 1990 as a senior member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh). He and several other HHSh leaders, notably Vazgen Manukian, subsequently fell out with Ter-Petrosian and set up a new party, the National Democratic Union (AZhM). It nearly unseated the then Armenian president in a disputed presidential election held in 1996.
Kocharian eventually split from the AZhM as well and formed his own party, the AZhK, that joined the now defunct Artarutyun (Justice) alliance led by Stepan Demirchian, the main opposition candidate in the equally disputed presidential elections of February-March 2003. He actively participated in the Armenian opposition’s ill-fated April 2004 attempt to force then President Robert Kocharian (no relation) to step down with a campaign of street demonstrations. He was arrested during the break-up of a key opposition rally in Yerevan and spent several days in prison.
Shavarsh Kocharian disapproved of a similar campaign of more massive street protests launched by Ter-Petrosian following last February’s presidential ballot in which the latter made an unexpectedly strong showing. Unlike the leaders of over two dozen opposition groups, Kocharian and Manukian remained highly critical of Ter-Petrosian after his dramatic return to active politics in September 2007.
Both prominent oppositionists made the ex-president main target of their pre-election speeches, sparking allegations of secret collaboration with the government from the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. They also effectively recognized the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s controversial election win and blamed Ter-Petrosian for the deadly post-election unrest in Yerevan.
In his new capacity, Kocharian will apparently replace Armen Bayburtian, a deputy foreign minister who was sacked in late February after publicly condemning the Armenian government’s handling of the election along with a dozen other senior diplomats. Bayburtian was primarily in charge of Armenia’s relations with the European Union, its member states and other pan-European structures.