YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A 34-year-old former aide to President Serzh Sarkisian was unexpectedly appointed on Friday as the new head of Armenia’s most powerful security agency.
Georgi Kutoyan’s appointment as director of the National Security Service (NSS), the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB, came just one week after Sarkisian named him a deputy prosecutor-general.
In a statement announcing the appointment, Sarkisian’s office did not explain why he decided to move Kutoyan to another, more powerful position in the Armenian security apparatus.
Introducing him to senior NSS officials later in the day, Sarkisian described Kutoyan as a “true professional” and “principled” person. “He is capable of coordinating parallel processes and finding the best way to solve a problem,” the president said. “For five years I worked with Georgi Kutoyan, and during those five years I never had a sense of dissatisfaction.”
In remarks publicized by his press service, Sarkisian put Kutoyan’s appointment in the context of his recent constitutional reform and Armenia’s resulting transition to the parliamentary system of government. The NSS must ensure that this transition, which will end in 2018, is “smooth” enough, he said.
Sarkisian said he now also expects the NSS to wage a tougher fight against corruption. “This doesn’t mean that national security bodies have not fought against corruption until now,” he said. “It’s just that we need a more acute fight at this stage.”
The previous, longtime head of the NSS, Gorik Hakobian, was relieved of his duties as his legally defined tenure came to an end on Thursday. A career ex-KGB officer, Hakobian, 70, had run the feared agency since 2004.
Sarkisian’s choice of the new NSS chief has been a subject of intense media speculation in recent weeks. A list of Hakobian’s potential successors discussed by commentators included his deputy Arzuman Harutiunian and the governor of the northwestern Shirak province, Felix Tsolakian.
A lawyer by education, Kutoyan worked as an assistant to Sarkisian from 2011 until this month. From 2011-2014, he headed a presidential body monitoring anti-corruption measures supposedly taken by the Armenian government.
Before joining the presidential staff, he worked as a law lecturer at state-run colleges and as a senior staffer in the office of the Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman.
Apart from a 2005-2006 stint at the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Kutoyan has, according to his official biography, no prior work experience in the field of security and law-enforcement.