Kocharian Appoints New Defense Minister

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Robert Kocharian promised more government efforts to reform and strengthen the military as he introduced Armenia’s newly appointed defense minister, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, to the Defense Ministry staff on Wednesday. The appointment was announced by Kocharians office late Tuesday. In a separate presidential decree, Harutiunian, 61, was dismissed as chief of the army staff and discharged from the Armed Forces to run the Defense Ministry as a civilian. That significantly increases his chances of serving as defense minister in Armenia’s next government to be formed after the May 12 parliamentary elections. Harutiunian, 61, was until now not regarded as the favorite to occupy the post that became vacant following Serzh Sarkisians appointment as prime minister on April 4. Two other top army generals, Seyran Ohanian and Artur Aghabekian, were thought to be more likely to get the job. Addressing the ministry staff, Kocharian said Harutiunian will strengthen the army and carry on with defense reforms stemming from Armenia’s individual partnership action plan with NATO. Security is a high priority for the country, and our policy is aimed and will be aimed at further boosting the armys combat-readiness and paying particular attention to security issues in general, he said in televised remarks. Kocharian also thanked Sarkisian for his large-scale and effective work at the helm of the Defense Ministry. Few observers believe that Harutiunian will be re-appointed as minister in the event of the Sarkisian-led Republican Partys victory in the elections. Armenian press reports have said Seyran Ohanian, commander of Nagorno-Karabakhs army, and former Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian are more likely to get the job. Aghabekian resigned from his post and was discharged from the Armed Forces in February to contest the elections as a candidate of another governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The move fueled speculation that Sarkisian will pick Aghabekian as the next defense minister in exchange for a Dashnaktsutyun endorsement of his anticipated presidential bid. We congratulate and wish [Harutiunian] success, but continue to believe that Artur Aghabekian would make the best defense minister, Hrant Markarian, a top Dashnaktsutyun leader, told RFE/RL. I think they dont find it appropriate to give [the post] to Dashnaktsutyun in the pre-election period. Markarian said Aghabekian will likely become minister after the elections, but insisted that his party has not cut any power-sharing deals with Kocharian and Sarkisian yet.

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