Armenia's Ambassador to the UK Armen Sarkissian

Republican Party Nominates UK Ambassador, Former PM Sarkissian for President

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL, news.am) — Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has named former Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian as the ruling Republican Party’s nomination for the next president.

Sarkissian, who is no relation to the outgoing president, was Armenia’s prime minister from 1996 to 1997 when he resigned from the post because of illness.

He currently is Armenia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and, in accordance with recent constitutional reforms regarding the presidency, is not a member of any political party.

Armen Sarkissian with Prince Charles

Serzh Sargsyan, who heads the Republican Party, announced the nomination on January 19.

Earlier in January, the president said the Republican Party’s candidate should be a person who is not involved in politics and is highly regarded by Armenian society.

Following a referendum in December 2015, Armenia changed its form of government from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic.

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As a result, presidential veto powers are being stripped from the post and the presidency is being downgraded to a figurehead position elected by parliament every seven years rather than a direct popular vote.

The constitutional reforms coming into effect also limit an Armenian president to a single seven-year term.

Sceptics see the constitutional reforms as a way for incumbent President Sarkissian to maintain political control in Armenia by becoming prime minister when the mandate for his second five-year presidential term expires on April 9.

Armenia’s Republican Party controls a simple majority in Yerevan’s 113-seat, single-chamber legislature and is expected to approve President Sarkissian’s nominee in an early March vote.

Armen Sarkissian was born on June 23, 1953 in Yerevan. He is married, has two sons and three grandchildren. He graduated from the Yerevan State University, Faculty of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics.

From 1976 to 1984 he was professor of physics and founder of the Department of Computer Modelling of Complex Systems at the Yerevan State University. From 1984 to1985 and from 1989 to 1991 he was a visiting research fellow and later professor at the University of Cambridge, Institute of Mathematics of London University. From 1991 to 1995 he was Armenia’s ambassador to the UK. After he served other countries in Europe as ambassador, he was again reappointed ambassador to the UK.

He is the founding president of the Eurasia House International. For more than a dozen years he served as senior adviser to British Petroleum, Alcatel, Telefonica, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and other multinational corporations.

On November 1, 1996, he became the fifth prime minister of Armenia and left the post on February 28, 1997. According to some reports, the reason was an alleged clash with the then-defense minister Vazgen Sargsyan. The formal reports suggested he resigned because an urgent need to undergo treatment from a grave illness.

When Sarkissian was the head of the government, he made efforts to establish head offices of international companies in Yerevan.

He established the Yerevan My Love foundation in 2009. The Prince of Wales, Robert Dudley, Lord Ara Darzi, entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan, as well as Bank of America, VimpelCom, ITERA, AREVA and others were mentioned in the list of his trustees.

In 2013, the Yerevan Municipality presented the Yerevan My Love foundation a land of 1005 square meters. Four years have passed, but the construction is at a standstill.

In May 2013, Sarkissian accompanied Prince Charles during his trip to Armenia as a guest of the Yerevan My Love foundation.

The Prince’s trip was associated with lobbying for the activities of the British company Lydian International, on the board of which Sarkissian serves. The company has obtained a concession from the country’s authorities for the development of a gold mine on Mount Amulsar.

During the presidency of Robert Kocharyan, Armen Sarkissian promoted the activities of Alcatel SA in Armenia – one of the leaders in the world telecommunications equipment market.

In 2002 Sarkissian founded an annual Eurasian Media Forum in Astana, whose chairman is daughter of President of Kazakhstan Dariga Nazarbayeva, who was in Armenia in May 2013 within Yerevan My Love initiative.

In early 2000, Sarkissian created several investment companies. Their names are associated with different areas of London, where Sarkissian lives: Knightsbridge Group and Highbury Group. He does not disclose capital stocks. Speaking on the origin of funds he said that these are “family funds” and include the funds of both the Sarkissian family and his acquaintances.

At that time, Sarkissian’s business included 25 subsidiaries in various fields: telecommunications, technology, multimedia, real estate, energy and agriculture. The head company of the group was the Knightsbridge Investment Fund, whose board of directors consisted of representatives of international financial organizations and banks.

Knightsbridge Group invested throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. For example, the group invested in the creation of broadband Internet in Turkmenistan.

The company is also interested in Russia. Sarkissian’s group entered the Russian market through Knightsbridge Cybersystems with director general being his eldest son Vartan Sarkissian, an IT specialist and entrepreneur.

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