Armen Sarkissian

Armenian President Resigns


YEREVAN (DP, Azatutyun) — Armen Sarkissian announced Sunday, January 23, that he was stepping down as president of Armenia, citing his inability to influence policy during times of crisis.

Armenia has been embroiled in a political crisis that erupted in the wake of a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

Sarkissian disagreed with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over his decision to remove the chief of general staff  in the wake of the war with Azerbaijan and amid protests.

Pashinyan removed Armenia’s chief of general staff in March 2021, claiming that the military was planning a coup.

Pashinyan has been under pressure since the peace deal that ended the war with Azerbaijan, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the agreement.

At the time the peace deal was being negotiated, Sarkissian criticized the fact that he had not been included in the deliberations.

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“This is not an emotionally-driven decision and it comes from a specific logic,” Sarkissian said in a statement on the website of the president of Armenia.

“The president does not have the necessary tools to influence the important processes of foreign and domestic policy in difficult times for the people and the country.”

The post of president is largely ceremonial in Armenia, and executive power is held primarily by the prime minister. Armenia became a parliamentary republic after a 2015 referendum that significantly limited presidential powers.

“We live in a unique reality, a reality where the President cannot influence matters of war or peace,” Sarkissian said in his statement, adding that the president did not have the power to veto laws.

“I hope that eventually the constitutional changes will be implemented and the next president and presidential administration will be able to operate in a more balanced environment.”

The outgoing president was elected in 2018, having previously served as Armenia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Sarkissian also held the post of prime minister in 1996-1997.

What’s Next

In a rare convergence of views, pro-government and opposition members of Armenia parliament on Monday dismissed the main stated reason for President Armen Sarkissian’s resignation and criticized his track record.

Lawmakers representing the ruling Civil Contract party and the opposition minority in the National Assembly countered that Sarkissian was well aware of the largely ceremonial powers vested in the presidency when he agreed to become president in early 2018.

“Didn’t he know the limits of his prerogatives when he was elected president?” said Civil Contract’s Khachatur Sukiasyan. “He must have familiarized himself with the constitution before taking office.”

Sukiasyan, who is also a wealthy businessman, went on to question Sarkissian’s patriotism and attachment to Armenia.

“If an Armenian keeps 90 percent of his capital in a foreign country I cannot help but wonder to what extent he trusts and loves the Republic of Armenia,” he said, referring to a fortune made by Sarkissian in Britain.

Sarkissian, 68, had lived and worked in London for nearly three decades. Former President Serzh Sargsyan offered him to become the head of state as Armenia completed its transition to a parliamentary system of government. The country’s former parliament controlled by Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party (HHK) elected the new president for a seven-year term in March 2018.

Hayk Mamijanyan, an opposition lawmaker affiliated with the HHK, charged that Sarkissian has not performed his duties properly since then.

“He has sung the same song for four years,” Mamijanian told reporters. “Talking about the same things — powers, powers, powers — for four years is not comprehensible for me.”

Sargsyan’s political allies have been particularly critical of the current president. They have claimed that he is afraid of pushing back against what they see as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s authoritarian tendencies.

Under Armenian constitution, parliament speaker Alen Simonyan will take over as interim president if Sarkissian does not withdraw his resignation within a week. In that case, the National Assembly will have to elect a new head of state within the next 35 days.

To become president in the first round of voting a candidate has to be backed by at least 81 members of the 107-seat parliament. The legal threshold is set at 65 votes for the second round.

Pashinyan’s Civil Contract controls 71 parliament seats, putting it in a position to install the new president. The ruling party has not yet indicated who could be its presidential candidate.

The two opposition factions in the National Assembly similarly did not say on Monday whether they will field a candidate.

Pashinyan said on Monday that Armenia’s parliament should elect a new president of the republic who will be in sync with his administration.

Pashinyan said that Sarkissian phoned him and informed him about the surprise decision just a few hours before announcing it. He said he “took note” of it and will not comment on the reason for the resignation given by the head of state.

Civil Contract controls 71 of the 107 seats in the National Assembly, putting it in a position to install the next president.

Pashinyan said that he and his political team have not yet discussed potential candidates for the job. He indicated that they will pick a figure loyal to them.

“I think that we must go for a solution that will ensure political harmony between the president, the government and the parliament majority, especially now that we are faced with very serious challenges,” he said during a virtual news conference aired by Armenian Public Television.

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