During the past month, several Armenian government officials either resigned or were dismissed by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, including high-ranking figures such as Armenian Police Chief Alik Sarkisian and Yerevan Mayor and Presidential Chief of Staff Karen Karpetyan. There are also indications in Armenian media that the wave of dismissals and resignations will continue.
Political reshuffles have occurred in Armenia before, but the timing of this wave of dismissals and resignations could indicate that President Sarkisian is engaged in a power struggle with former Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who still has supporters within the government. That struggle could play out in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections and eventually affect some areas of Armenia’s foreign policy, though it would not change Armenia’s overall strategic relations with its power patron, Russia.
The political shakeup comes ahead of Armenia’s parliamentary elections, slated for May 2012. Not long before the round of dismissals and resignations began, Kocharian said in an interview with Armenian news agency Mediamax that he has not ruled out returning to Armenia’s national political scene. Many of the officials affected by the shakeup are rumored to have connections to Kocharian, so it is possible that Sarkisian reshuffled these officials in an attempt to limit Kocharian’s support base within the government before the elections.
Armenia’s parliamentary elections typically serve as a springboard to presidential elections, and Sarkisian wants to preserve his majority in parliament. Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) holds 64 of the parliament’s 131 seats and is in a coalition with the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), which currently holds 18 seats. However, the PAP’s leader, wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, is believed to be close to Kocharian. If Tsarukian should decide to leave the coalition with the RPA, Sarkisian will no longer have a majority in parliament, which would make it easier for Kocharian to return to the national political scene and vie for power in the next presidential election.
No matter the outcome of a political contest between Sarkisian and Kocharian, one aspect of Armenian policy will not change: Yerevan’s relationship with Moscow. An alliance with Russia is a geopolitical imperative for Armenia, and Moscow has taken steps to ensure Armenia’s dependence on Russia. However, as Armenia’s future will be shaped by the upcoming formation of the Moscow-led Eurasian Union, Armenia’s policy in other areas, including relations with neighbors such as Turkey, Iran or Azerbaijan — could be affected. Much could change in the months before Armenia’s parliamentary elections, but the significance of the reshuffles and Kocharian’s possible role in national politics will be important in determining the future of Armenia’s political landscape.