Kocharian Orders Major Army Reshuffle

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–In a sweeping reshuffle of the supreme command of Armenia’s armed forces aimed at asserting his authority over the military–on Tuesday President Robert Kocharian promoted leaders of the influential Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans that has challenged him in the last four months.

The chairman of Yerkrapah–General Manvel Grigorian–and one of the organization’s key figures–Colonel Seyran Saroyan–were promoted to become a deputy minister of defense and the commander of the Second Army Corps respectively. Another general and two colonels were also named deputy defense ministers–while two of the current deputy ministers–were relieved of their duties–the presidential press office reported.

The move followed two presidential decrees–which stipulated that only Kocharian is authorized to make key appointmen’s in the armed forces where Yerkrapah leaders hold senior posts. The decrees were interpreted by many observers as a warning to those top commanders who support Kocharian’s rivals in the government and the ruling Unity alliance.

One of Unity’s members–the Republican Party of Armenia–acts as Yerkrapah’s political wing. Tensions between Kocharian and his opponents grouped around Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan flared up into an overt dispute late last month when Unity demanded the resignation of two figures close to the president–the chief of his administration and director of Armenian state television. They were accused of discrediting military prosecutors investigating the October 27 attack on the Armenian parliament. Some senior members of Yerkrapah called for Kocharian’s resignation in the wake of the parliament killings.

But the union’s leadership did not join the calls. Still–General Grigorian’s latest appointment came as a surprise–given that the Yerkrapah chairman is one of the most influential figures in the prime minister’s entourage.

The presidential decrees on the military are seen as part of the power struggle–but it is not clear whether Kocharian struck any deals with Unity.

Grigorian–who commanded the First Army Corps of Armenia’s armed forces before Tuesday’s promotion–will be replaced by Colonel Levon Yeran’sian. The vacant position of commander of the Fifth Army Corps will be taken by Colonel Haykaz Baghmanian. The three new corps commanders were promoted by Kocharian to the rank of general. The three other new deputy ministers of defense are: General Yuri Khachaturov (until now commander of the Fourth Corps) and Colonels Artur Aghabekian and Gurgen Melkonian. In another major appointment–the commander of the Second Corps–General Enrico Apriamov–became a deputy chief of the army staff. Kocharian officially announced the reshuffle at a meeting with the defense ministry staff.

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