A spokesman for Kocharian told RFE/RL that General Grigori Sarkisian, the former head of the State Protection Service (SPS), passed away in his Yerevan home in the early hours of the morning. News reports said ambulance crews rushed there failed to save the 53-year-old’s life.
A native of Nagorno-Karabakh, Sarkisian headed the agency, responsible for the personal security of Armenia’s most high-ranking government officials, from its establishment in early 2004 until May last year. He had previously been only in charge of Kocharian’s security detail.
Armenia -- Grigori Sarkisian, former head of the State Protection Service, stands behind President Robert Kocharian during an official ceremony in Yerevan.
Sarkisian gained considerable political and economic clout during Kocharian’s decade-long rule, reportedly becoming one of the second Armenian president’s most important associates. He is believed to have been actively involved in the bloody suppression of anti-government demonstrations staged by Kocharian’s predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the disputed presidential election February 2008. In particular, he was present at the pre-dawn dispersal on March 1, 2008 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. The opposition leader claimed afterwards that the SPS chief personally twisted his arms and pushed him into his limousine. Sarkisian denied that, saying that he went to Liberty Square to ensure Ter-Petrosian’s security and had nothing to do with the violent dispersal of more than 1,000 opposition supporters camped there.
Ter-Petrosian 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 ten people dead and more than 200 others injured. Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) regards Sarkisian as one of the main organizers of the “slaughter.”
The SPS chief’s sacking in May 2008 was one of the first major personnel changes made by Kocharian’s successor Serzh Sarkisian (no relation to Grigori). The move followed media reports about mounting friction between Grigori Sarkisian and Vache Ghazarian, a fellow Karabakh Armenian who has long been responsible for the current Armenian president’s security.
Kocharian’s bodyguards earned notoriety in September 2001 when they beat to death a man in a Yerevan café who greeted the then president in a way which they found offensive. Only one of them was subsequently prosecuted and given a suspended one-year jail sentence in connection with the incident.