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Vazgen Sargsyan
Vazgen Sargsyan
Prime Minister of Armenia

In office
11 June 1999 – 27 October 1999
President Robert Kocharyan
Preceded by Armen Darbinyan
Succeeded by Aram Sargsyan
Defence Minister of Armenia

In office
25 July 1995 – 11 June 1999
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Robert Kocharyan
Preceded by Serzh Sargsyan
Succeeded by Vagharshak Harutiunyan

In office
5 December 1991 – 20 October 1992
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Vazgen Manukyan
State Minister on Defence, National Security and Internal Affairs

In office
July 1993 – 25 July 1995
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Serzh Sargsyan
Presidential Adviser on Defence Affairs

In office
20 October 1992 – 5 March 1993
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Vazgen Manukyan
Head of the Supreme Council Commission on Defence and Internal Affairs

In office
June 1990 – 5 December 1991
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by position abolished
Personal details
Born (1959-03-05)5 March 1959
Ararat, Armenia SSR, Soviet Union
Died 27 October 1999(1999-10-27) (aged 40)
Yerevan, Armenia
Resting place Yerablur
Political party Republican Party of Armenia
Relations Aram Sargsyan (brother)
Alma mater Yerevan Institute of Physical Culture
Occupation teacher, writer
Religion Armenian Apostolic
Military service
Nickname(s) Sparapet
Service/branch Armed Forces of Armenia
Years of service 1989—1994
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Nagorno-Karabakh War
Awards National Hero of Armenia
Hero of Artsakh

Vazgen Sargsyan[1] (Armenian language: Վազգեն Սարգսյան , Armenian: [vɑzˈɡɛn sɑɾkʰsˈjɑn]) (5 March 1959 – 27 October 1999) was the frist Defence Minister of Armenia from 1991 to 1992 and then from 1995 to 1999. He served as Armenia's Prime Minister from June until his assassination on 27 October 1999. Sargsyan joined the movement for the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia in the late 1980s and led the Armenian volunteers during the early clashes with the Azerbaijanis. Sargsyan became the head of the Defence Committee of the Armenian Parliament in 1990 and, soon after Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union in September 1991, he was appointed Defence Minister of Armenia by President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Sargsyan was the main commander of the Armenian forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War,[2] which escalated into a full-scale war by 1992. In August 1992, Sargsyan organized a volunteer battalion, which turned the course of the war in favor of the Armenian side. From 1992 to 1995, he served in different positions responsible for regulating the military operations in the war area. A ceasefire was reached in 1994, ending the war with an Armenian victory and de facto unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

From 1995 to 1999, Sargsyan served as Defence Minister, finishing the establishment of the Armed Forces of Armenia. He continuously supported President Ter-Petrosyan to retain power by using his influence in elections and suppression of opposition. However, this changed in February 1998, when Sargsyan forced Ter-Petrosyan out of office due to disagreements over the settlement policies of Nagorno-Karabakh. With Sargsyan's support, Robert Kocharyan was elected president in March 1998. Their relations soon deteriorated and, by early 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan merged Yerkrapah, the influential group of the Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans, into the Republican Party of Armenia to form a political base in the parliament. Sargsyan then joined Armenia's former Soviet leader Karen Demirchyan, forming an alliance prior to the parliamentary election. Their Unity bloc and its sympathizers won a majority to the National Assembly in the 30 May 1999 election. Sargsyan became the Prime Minister, emerging as the de facto decision-maker in Armenia, more powerful than President Kocharyan. Five months later, Vazgen Sargsyan, along with Demirchyan and several others, was assassinated in the Armenian parliament shooting on 27 October 1999. The perpetrators were sentenced to life in prison. However, the distrust toward the trial process gave birth to a number of conspiracy theories. Some experts and politicians argued that their assassination was masterminded by President Kocharyan and National Security Minister Serzh Sargsyan. Others have suspected the possible involvement of Russia, the ARF or the Western powers in the shooting.

Today, Sargsyan is widely recognized as a national hero and seen as the founder of the Armenian Army, which concluded a victorious war with Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region. He made significant contributions to the establishment of an independent Armenian state and ensuring its security.[3] Sargsyan was awarded the highest titles of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh—National Hero of Armenia and Hero of Artsakh. Streets, parks, the Yerevan military academy and the Republican Stadium are named after him, and numerous statues have been erected in his memory.

Early life and career

Vazgen Sargsyan was born in Ararat, Soviet Armenia, near the Turkish border, on 5 March 1959, to Greta and Zaven Sargsyan.[4][5] After finishing secondary school in his village, Sargsyan attended the Yerevan Institute of Physical Culture from 1976 to 1979. He worked as a physical education teacher at the secondary school in Ararat from 1979 to 1983. Therefore serving in the Soviet army was not obligatory for him. From 1983 to 1986, he was the Young Communist League (Komsomol) leader at the Ararat Cement Factory.[4][6]

An amateur writer, Sargsyan developed a literary and active social life. In 1985, he became a member of the Writers Union of Armenia.[7] From 1986 to 1989, he headed the publicity department of the Garun («Գարուն», "Spring") literary monthly in Yerevan.[6] Sargsyan wrote his first novel in 1980, and his first book Bread Temptation («Հացի փորձություն») was published in 1986, for which he was awarded by the Armenian Komsomol.[7] A number of his works were published in journals. However, his literary career did not last long and ended in the late 1980s.[8]

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

File:Nagorno Karabakh secession movement 1988.jpg

Armenians demonstrate in favor of incorporation of Karabakh with Armenia, 1988

Early stages and independence of Armenia

The relative democratization of the Soviet regime under Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies in the late 1980s gave rise to nationalism in the republics of the Soviet Union. In Armenia, the Karabakh movement gained widespread public support. Armenians demanded the Soviet authorities unify the mostly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) of Azerbaijan with Armenia.

On 20 February 1988, the NKAO regional legislature requested the transfer of the region from the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan SSR to Armenian SSR. However, it was rejected by the Politburo.[9] The tensions between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis increased with the anti-Armenian pogrom in Sumgait.[10] Both groups started to arm themselves and clashes became frequent, especially in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh and the border areas of the two Soviet republics.

In 1989 and 1990, Sargsyan took the command of Armenian volunteer groups fighting near Yeraskh, on the Armenian-Azerbaijani (Nakhchivan) border, not far from his hometown.[11] By January 1990, he became part of the leadership of the Pan-Armenian National Movement.[12] Sargsyan was elected to the Armenian parliament (called the Supreme Council at the time) in the May 1990 election.[4] He served as the head of the Supreme Council Commission on Defense and Internal Affairs until December 1991.[4]

Armenian soldiers in Karabakh, early 1990s.

On 20 September 1990, amid escalation of the conflict, the Special Regiment was established. Made up of 26 platoons and a total of 2,300 men, it was the first formal Armenian military unit independent from Moscow. It became the main base of the Armenian army in the following years.[13]

By 1991, most Armenians from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis from Armenia were forced to move to their respective countries, as remaining in their homes became nearly impossible.[14] Although Armenia had proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union on 23 August 1990, it was not until on 21 September 1991, a month after the failed August Coup in Moscow, when the overwhelming majority of Armenians voted for the independence in a nationwide referendum. Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the leader of the Karabakh Committee and the head of the Supreme Council since 1990, was elected president of Armenia.

Active military involvement

Due to the fact that Sargsyan was popular among Armenian volunteer units and officers,[15] he was appointed the first Defense Minister of independent Armenia by President Ter-Petrosyan in December 1991.[4][16] On 28 January 1992, the Armenian government passed the historical decree "On the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia," which formally created the Armed Forces of Armenia.[17][18] With the rise of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, in March 1992, Sargsyan announced that Armenia needed a 30,000-strong army for maintaining security.[19] On May 8–9, 1992, the Armenian forces recorded their first major military success in Nagorno-Karabakh with the capture of Shusha.[20] Armenians captured the city of Lachin on May 18.[21] It was a significant victory for the Armenian forces, since it was on the main road connecting Armenia proper with Nagorno-Karabakh.[22][23]

By mid-June 1992, Ayaz Mutallibov was ousted from power and the Popular Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey replaced him as president of Azerbaijan. The military equipment left by the Soviets was taken over by the Azerbaijani Army.[24] This change in leadership helped Azerbaijan to launch Operation Goranboy on 12 June 1992. The Armenian forces retreated and lost control of northern half of Nagorno-Karabakh.[25][26] The situation turned critical for the Armenian forces. In late August 1992, Nagorno-Karabakh's government found itself in a disorderly state and its members resigned on 17 August. Power was subsequently assumed by a council called the State Defense Committee and chaired by Robert Kocharyan, which stated it would temporarily govern the enclave until the conflict ended.[27] On 15 August 1992, Vazgen Sargsyan, as the Defence Minister of Armenia, called on Armenian men to gather and form a volunteer unit to fight against the advancing Azerbaijani forces in the northern parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. He stated:

If 10-15 men from every district of Armenia come together, we can form a battalion of 500. This battalion must fight in the most dangerous areas, where the chance of survival is 50-50. Together we will go fight in the most difficult parts and we will win. Because, in reality, nothing has changed, the enemy is the same enemy, which was escaping and we are the same. It's just that we have lost the faith in our power. Now we need another attack and we must do it with the old guys to stimulate others in the army. If the day after tomorrow we will be able to establish a battalion of 500 volunteers, then we will fight and we will win."[28]

The battalion Sargsyan called for was formed on 30 August 1992.[29] It was named "Artsiv mahapartner" («Արծիվ մահապարտներ», translating literally to "Eagles Sentenced to Death").[30] Under the command of Major-General Astvatsatur Petrosyan,[31] it defeated the Azerbaijanis around Gandzasar monastery and Chldran village in Martakert Province on 31 August and 1 September 1992.[32] The battalion's activity is recognized to have stopped the advancement of the Azeri forced and turned the course of the war in favor of the Armenians.[29]

The 1994 ceasefire ended the Nagorno-Karabakh War with the Armenian forces establishing de facto control on the disputed area

Advance and victory of the Armenian forces

In September 1992, former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan took his position as Defence Minister,[33] while Sargsyan was appointed the Presidential Adviser on Defence Affairs and the Presidential Envoy to Border Regions of Armenia on October 1992. He served in the position until March 1993.[4][6] In March 1993, Sargsyan was appointed State Minister on Defence, Security and Internal Affairs.[4][6] In the meantime, Serzh Sargsyan, a Karabakh Armenian and a former local Communist apparatchik, was appointed Armenia's Minister of Defence. Vazgen and Serzh Sargsyan shared the leadership of the Armenian military until 1995 when the position of State Minister on Defence, Security and Internal Affairs was abolished.

In these positions, Sargsyan had a significant role in the advance of the Armenian army. With other key commanders, he regulated the operations to the Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.[34] Political chaos in Azerbaijan and the demoralization of the Azeri army resulted in the Armenian forces taking control over the territories outside of the original Soviet-drawn borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1993, Sargsyan founded and led the Yerkrapah Volunteer Union.[4][7] Yerkrapah included some 5,000 Nagorno-Karabakh War veterans.[35] It had great influence in Armenia's domestic politics in the post-war years and became the main base for Vazgen Sargsyan to rise in power.

In early April 1993, the Armenian forces captured Kelbajar, a city outside the originally contested areas, causing international attention to the conflict. Turkey closed its border with Armenia, while the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the advancement of the Armenians.[36] In the summer of 1993, Armenian forces gained more territories and, by August, Fizuli, Jebrail, and Zangelan fell to the Armenians.[37] By early 1994, both countries were devastated by the war. On 5 May, the Bishkek Protocol was signed by the heads of the parliaments of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, backed by Armenia, established de facto control of these lands. Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh among Armenians) remains internationally unrecognized and a de jure part of Azerbaijan. However, it is in de facto unified with Armenia.[38][39] Since the end of the armed conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan regularly hold negotiations for the settlement of the conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group.

Minister of Defence and president change

The Armenian Armed Forces headed by Vazgen Sargsyan significantly influenced the outcome of four elections from 1995 to 1999.[40]

Vazgen Sargsyan was appointed Minister of Defence by President Levon Ter-Petrosyan on 26 July 1995, during the restructuring of government ministries.[6] He remained in that position for almost four years.[6] The Armenian army was highly regarded, described as the only former Soviet state that "managed to build a combat-capable army from scratch" and was "comparable in efficiency to the Soviet Army."[41] In April 1997, Sargsyan stated that Armenia's military power had been doubled in the past two years.[42] According to British journalist Thomas de Waal, the army was "the most powerful institution" in Armenia.[2]

Sargsyan's reign as a Minister of Defence was marked by cooperation with Russia and Greece, and intended to balance the influence of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the region.[43][44][45] Sargsyan had "close connections" with the Russian military elite, and according to the Jamestown Foundation, he pursued a military diplomacy with Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Iran and Bulgaria for a pro-Russian alliance.[40] In summer 1997, three years after the ceasefire, in response to Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev's statements that Azerbaijan was "ready to solve the Karabakh problem by force," Sargsyan replied, "Let him do it. We are ready."[46] In March 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan warned that Azerbaijan may attack at any time and that Armenians "must be ready for any development." He also stated that, in case another war were to start, the Armenian army "will make more serious gains."[47]

A 'power minister'

By the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Ter-Petrosyan had lost the overwhelming popular support he had earlier because of the high-level corruption and the deep economic crisis in Armenia.[48] Ter-Petrosyan banned the major opposition party Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in December 1994, and ordered the arrest of its leaders in charges of terrorism and violent overthrow of the government.[49][50] The trial was condemned domestically and internationally.[51] The Ter-Petrosyan administration also oppressed the press.[50] In order to continue his reign as president, Ter-Petrosyan was highly dependent on the "power structures," which included the Ministries of Defence (headed by Vazgen Sargsyan), Interior (Vano Siradeghyan) and National Security (Serzh Sargsyan).[51] Vazgen Sargsyan was a key figure in post-war Armenia due to the fact that he was indisputably supported by the army, the only well-established institution in Armenia.[52] He was described as an éminence grise of the Armenian politics,[53] deciding many personnel appointments and dismissals.[52]

1995–1996 elections

On 5 July 1995, the parliamentary election and the constitutional referendum were held. They were marred with major electoral violations.[49][50] Vazgen Sargsyan helped the Pan-Armenian National Movement (PANM) win the election and pass the constitutional reforms that gave the president more powers in appointing and dismissing key judicial and legislative officials.[50][54]

Vazgen Manukyan led the movement against Levon Ter-Petrosyan's regime in 1996.

The 1996 presidential election was the second presidential election in post-Soviet Armenia. On 18 September, a few days before the election, Sargsyan stated that he was "satisfied with the situation." Addressing Ter-Petrosyan's supporters, he said that Armenia "will enter the 21st century victoriously and stable with Ter-Petrosyan."[55] In an opinion poll, 28.6% of Armenians said they had "irritation and antipathy" for Sargsyan's speeches. According to the Caucasian Regional Studies, during the election campaign, Sargsyan and Siradeghyan "turned off the voters" from Levon Ter-Petrosyan.[56] Most opposition parties consolidated around former Karabakh Committee member and former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan.[51] The election was held on 22 September 1996, the day after the fifth anniversary of the independence of Armenia.[57]

Official results by the Central Electoral Commission recorded Ter-Petrosyan's victory in the first round with just above 50% of the total vote in his favor.[58] The observation and monitoring organizations were mostly critical of the conduct of the election.[59][51][60] The OSCE observation mission found "serious violations of the election law."[50] Manukyan, the main opposition candidate, officially received 41% of the vote. He started demonstrations the next day, claiming electoral fraud by Ter-Petrosyan's supporters. An estimated 200,000 people gathered in Yerevan's Freedom Square to protest the election results.[61] On 25 September, approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people gathered in the same square. Manukyan led the demonstrators to the parliament building on Baghramyan Avenue, where the Electoral Commission was located at the time. Later during the day, the protesters broke the fence surrounding the parliament and entered the building. They beat up the parliament speaker Babken Ararktsyan and vice-speaker Ara Sahakyan.[62]

The security forces were brought into Yerevan to restore order. On the same day, Sargsyan said that "even if they [the opposition] win 100 percent of the votes, neither the Army nor the National Security and Interior Ministry would recognize such political leaders."[63] Vazgen Sargsyan and Minister of National Security Serzh Sargsyan announced on the Public Television of Armenia that their respective agencies had prevented an attempted coup d'état.[62] The government sent tanks and troops to Yerevan to enforce the ban on rallies and demonstrations on September 26.[64] Manukyan's appeal to the Constitutional Court requesting a new election was rejected.[62]

Shifts in the government

A few years after the election, former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghyan claimed in an interview that Ter-Petrosyan fell into a three-month depression and that he wanted both Vazgen Sargsyan and himself to resign. According to Siradeghyan, "the whole state apparatus was demoralized, paralyzed and no government was formed during [the ensuing] three months."[62] Despite these claims, in February 1997, Ter-Petrosyan denied the rumors of the resignation of Vazgen Sargsyan.[65] From 1994 until his resignation in February 1998, Ter-Petrosyan was criticized for his alleged authoritarian rule.[49] Stephan H. Astourian of the University of California, Berkeley suggested that the elections "tarnished" Ter-Petrosyan'’s image, especially his "own self-image, his “ego ideal," which the West used to increased the pressure on the non-democratically elected president on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.[62]

After the suppression of the opposition, President Ter-Petrosyan's dependence on Sargsyan's Defence Ministry increased. In November 1996, the Ministries of National Security and Interior were merged and Serzh Sargsyan was appointed minister. Vano Siradeghyan, Ter-Petrosyan's closest ally, who was the Interior Minister before the merging, became the mayor of Yerevan. This event may have been one of Ter-Petrosyan's main "mistakes" that led to his resignation.[66]

Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan's cabinet resigned in early November 1996. Armen Sargsyan, the former Armenian ambassador to the U.K., was appointed Prime Minister by Ter-Petrosyan on 4 November 1996, although he resigned in March 1997 due to illness.[67] Ter-Petrosyan appointed the president of the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as Prime Minister of Armenia on March 20, 1997.[48][68] Experts argued that Ter-Petrosyan needed Kocharyan's support (as a high representative of the Karabakh Armenians) to compromise with Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.[69] From the beginning, Kocharyan had very close relations with the National Security and Interior Minister Serzh Sargsyan, who was also from Karabakh.[66] However, he "lacked the local ties and clan connections native politicians had nurtured."[70]

Elite split

In June 1997, the first significant collision inside the ruling Pan-Armenian National Movement (PANM) came into view. During the parliamentary discussions on the army draft deferment for students aged 18 to 27, Vazgen Sargsyan insisted on abolishing deferment for students, arguing that the Armenian army "needs intellect."[71] The parliament speaker Babken Ararktsyan, a close ally of Ter-Petrosyan, opposed the bill. Dr. Astourian argued that the "crisis was important not so much because of what was at stake, but because it revealed the power of the defense ministry, disclosed a specific conflict of interest between the army and the nouveaux riches associated with the PANM, exposed a fault line between two close allies of the president, and brought to light the latter’'s inability to manage these conflicts behind the scene before they became public."[72] Some members of PANM called on for a vote of no confidence to Kocharyan's cabinet to sack the so-called "Karabakh clan" (i.e. Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan).[73]

"By calling for major concessions on Karabakh, Ter-Petrosyan was antagonizing the last forces that supported his rule, the army and the Karabakh elite, at a time when his popularity within the Armenian society was at its lowest."

 —Vicken Cheterian[74]

In 1997, the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, put more pressure on Armenia and Azerbaijan to agree on the issue and final status of Karabakh. The key elements of the "step-by-step" proposal of the OSCE Minsk Group agreed by Ter-Petrosyan and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev were Karabakh's final status, the return of the occupied territories, including the Lachin corridor, and the return of refugees.[75] Ter-Petrosyan claimed the normalization of relations with Azerbaijan and, therefore, the opening of the border with Turkey was the only way to significantly improve Armenia's economy.[75] On 26 September 1997, in his first press conference in five years, Ter-Petrosyan announced his support for the "step-by-step" settlement plan.[76]

After the plan was publicized, President Ter-Petrosyan came up against strong opposition. The issue was "important to the Armenians because of historical and psychological factors. After having been losing territories for centuries, the Armenians are reluctant to 'lose' Karabakh now that they have won a war against Azerbaijan."[77] The plan was denounced by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic leadership (President Arkadi Ghukasyan and Defence Minister Samvel Babayan).[78][79][80] Vazgen Sargsyan, as the head of the Defence Ministry and Yerkrapah, also denounced the plan.[76][79] The two Karabakh Armenians in the government (Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sargsyan),[76] the Armenian intelligentsia and the diaspora, the opposition parties[81] also expressed their opposition to the president’'s support for the proposed settlement plan.[74][82][83]

Vazgen Sargsyan's position

Vazgen Sargsyan, Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan argued that "Armenia should try to improve its economic performance," while Ter-Petrosyan insisted that Armenia "could only achieve marginal improvements insufficient to address the fear of relative decline and economic exclusion."[83] The Kocharyan cabinet, where Vazgen Sargsyan was a leading figure, called for a "package" deal, "involving a single framework accord on all contentious issues."[77] On 21 October 1997, ten members of the Republic bloc in the parliament left the faction and shifted their support to Vazgen Sargsyan. Ter-Petrosyan's bloc in the parliament now had only a majority of two seats in the National Assembly.[76] Despite the great public and political opposition, the Pan-Armenian National Movement voted in favor of Ter-Petrosyan's foreign policy.[82]

Vazgen Sargsyan and other "hard-liners" forced President Levon Ter-Petrosyan to resign in 1998.

The crisis within the government gained significant attention after the National Security Council meeting on 7–8 January 1998.[84][85] Ter-Petrosyan did not have enough support to continue his reign as president and thus agree on the OSCE settlement plan with Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. He was supported by the mayor of Yerevan, the formerly influential Minister of Interior Vano Siradeghyan, and the National Assembly speaker Babken Ararktsyan. Vazgen Sargsyan and Serzh Sargsyan, the heads of the "power ministries" (Ministry of Defence and Ministry of National Security and Interior) accompanied by Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan (the last two being originally from Karabakh) opposed Ter-Petrosyan's stance on the Karabakh settlement issue.[86] These three politicians were referred to as "hardliners" in the Western media for their position.[87][88]

On 23 January 1998, during the peak of the crisis, Vazgen Sargsyan rejected the rumors about Robert Kocharyan's possible resignation because of the disagreements with Ter-Petrosyan. Sargsyan openly stated his support for Kocharyan and called his resignation "impossible."[89] Earlier in January, three attacks took place on senior officials, including the attack on the Deputy Interior Minister Major-General Artsrun Markaryan, in which he was injured. Sargsyan blamed the Pan-Armenian National Movement for trying to destabilize the situation in Armenia, and stated that Ter-Petrosyan's supporters wanted to use the attacks as a pretext for Kocharyan's resignation. Sargsyan also guaranteed that the Armenian army "will not intervene in the political struggle."[90]

Ter-Petrosyan's resignation

President Levon Ter-Petrosyan announced his resignation on 3 February 1998.[91][92] According to Michael P. Croissant, it was Vazgen Sargsyan who "played ultimately the principal role in inducting the president's resignation."[84] In his resignation statement, Ter-Petrosyan referred to Vazgen Sargsyan, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan as "the well known body of power." He said, "bearing in mind that fulfillment of president's constitutional authorities during the prevailing circumstances is equal with the risk of destabilizing the country, I have chosen to hand in my resignation."[93] According to Stepan Astourian, Ter-Petrosyan was seen as a moderate in the West and his resignation "was seen as a blow to Western hopes of settling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan."[94] Ter-Petrosyan's resignation was followed by the resignation of National Assembly speaker Babken Ararktsyan, his two deputies, Mayor of Yerevan Vano Siradeghyan, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Arzoumanian and others.[84][95][89] A significant change occurred in the National Assembly. Dozens of members of the parliamentary faction called the Republican Bloc (mostly made up of Ter-Petrosyan's Pan-Armenian National Movement) joined Vazgen Sargsyan's Yerkrapah bloc, making it the largest parliamentary bloc, with 69 members compared to only 56 for the Republic.[89][81][84]

After Ter-Petrosyan's resignation, Prime Minister Robert Kocharian became acting president. The Armenian constitution put the Prime Minister behind the National Assembly Speaker but, as Babken Ararktsyan had also resigned, Kocharyan was next in the line of succession.[77][86] On 5 February 1998, Vazgen Sargsyan denied the claims of a coup d'état and said that Ter-Petrosyan's resignation was "rather sad but natural." Sargsyan claimed that the president's move surprised him and that he had "been seeking common grounds with the president for the past three months. The only step I achieved on the Karabakh issue was the suggestion that the situation be frozen." Vazgen Sargsyan called for fair elections.[96] On 29 January 1999, almost a year after Ter-Petrosyan's resignation, Vazgen Sargsyan stated at the Republican Party convention that he "respects and appreciates" Levon Ter-Petrosyan and described him as a "wise and a moral man and politician." Sargsyan insisted that the question of political responsibility was the main reason for Ter-Petrosyan's resignation.[97]

1998 election: Kocharyan as president

With the support of Vazgen Sargsyan, Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan was elected president in 1998.

The first round of the snap presidential election was held on 16 March 1998.[98] Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan and Karen Demirchyan, the leader of Soviet Armenia from 1974 to 1988, won the most number of votes: 38.5% and 30.5% respectively.[99] Demirchyan, who came in second, had been absent from politics for 10 years and had been in business.[100] Demirchyan was seen as a good old man from the Soviet times who could "return to the certainties of the past and distaste for mafia capitalism personified by Ter-Petrosyan's rule."[101] Demirchyan was very popular among the Armenian public.[102][103][104] A poll quoted by Western diplomats, showed that Demirchyan had the support of the 53% of Armenians, while Kocharyan was favored by only 36%.[105] He was also preferable for the West, since he had more moderate approach to the Karabakh conflict settlement, while Kocharyan was seen as a vivid nationalist.[100] The second round of the election was held on March 30 between Kocharyan and Demirchyan. Kocharyan won with 58.9% of the vote. The final results showed Demirchyan having only 40.1% of the vote.[99] The British Helsinki Human Rights Group claimed that "ordinary Armenians turned to Robert Kocharian as someone untainted by mafia connections and the intrigues of Yerevan politics."[101] The OSCE observation mission described the first round as "deeply flawed,"[106] while their final report stated that the mission found "serious flaws" and that the election did not meet the OSCE standards.[107] Although Demirchyan didn't officially dispute the election results, he never accepted them and did not congratulate Kocharyan.[108][40]

Vazgen Sargsyan (along with Interior Minister Serzh Sargsyan) openly supported Kocharyan and used his influence for his election.[101][40][109] He called Kocharyan a "man of unity of word and action" and stated that his experience in Karabakh and Armenia "shows that he is capable of solving economic problems also." Sargsyan criticized Demirchyan for not having a moral right to become president by saying, "Robert Kocharian is one of the leaders of the struggle of the Armenian people and understands the strategy of war and peace and possible compromise. Karen Demirchian has not even a slightest idea of all this."[110] After the election, however, Sargsyan suggested Kocharyan appoint Demirchyan Prime Minister to decrease the tensions in the political scene.[108] Even after becoming president, Kocharyan didn't have much institutional support (such as a party, control of the army, or a source of money) and remained "in a fundamental sense an outsider in Yerevan."[70] Kocharyan as the President of Armenia had a more tough position on the Karabakh settlement issue than Ter-Petrosyan.[111][86] He also urged the international community to recognize the Armenian Genocide, something on which his predecessor did not place importance.[112] In response, Turkey and Azerbaijan tightened their cooperation in isolating Armenia from regional projects.[111] Kocharyan, who, as the Prime Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh from 1992 to 1994 and the President of NKR from 1994 to 1997, did not put pressure on the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership to concede territory to Azerbaijan. Kocharyan was supported by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which was banned during Ter-Petrosyan's second term. The ARF was allowed to actively operate after Ter-Petrosyan's resignation a month before the election.[79][84]

Rise in power

"From the very beginning there was a wrong impression that Yerkrapah can do nothing–but fight, however—time has shown that Yerkrapah can not only perform feats on battlefields—but also have a say in peaceful development."

 —Vazgen Sargsyan, May 1999[113]

Politicization of Yerkrapah

In October 1997, following Ter-Petrosyan's statement about the settlement plan on Nagorno-Karabakh, dozens of members (mostly war veterans) of the Republic faction in the Armenian parliament created the Yerkrapah faction as a sign of disagreement. After Ter-Petrosyan's resignation in February 1998,[114] Yerkrapah became the largest group in the National Assembly.[115] It was loyal to their former commander Vazgen Sargsyan, making him "the power behind the throne."[116] It was announced in May 1988, that the Yerkrapah would become a political party. Yerkrapah was merged with the Republican Party of Armenia in June–July 1998, taking the party's name and its legal status.[117][118] The Republican Party was a small nationalist party established in 1990 by Ashot Navasardyan and its ideology was similar to that of Yerkrapah.[119]

The relations between Vazgen Sargsyan and President Kocharyan were not as smooth as before the presidential election. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group claimed that "it seems that within a very short time after that election" Sargsyan "was casting around for partners unconnected with or downright opposed to the president."[100] On 6 August 1998, Henrikh Khachatryan, the Prosecutor-General of Armenia and a close friend of Kocharyan, was murdered in his office "in murky circumstances."[120][121] A few months later, in December 1998, Vahram Khorkhoruni, the Deputy Minister of Defence, was murdered "for equally mysterious motives." On 9 February 1999, Artsrun Margaryan, the Deputy Minister of Interior, was murdered.[122][123] These murders spread rumors in Armenia that relations between Sargsyan and Kocharyan were "not normal."[124] Vazgen Sargsyan and Serzh Sargsyan, Kocharyan's close ally and the National Security and Interior Minister, were "also perceived to be at odds."[125]

The Republican Party held its first convention after the merger with Yerkrapah on 29 January 1999. Sargsyan stated at the convention that he did not wish to be president, National Assembly Speaker or Prime Minister. Sargsyan said, "I want to remain in the position of the Minister of Defence. I think that the army is the base of the stability and safety of the Republic of Armenia. I think there is no Republic of Armenia without the army, the economy cannot develop without the army and vice versa. I consider myself a good Defence Minister. I think that there is too much work I have to do in this system. At least two to three years are necessary to get this enormous amount of work done, which I can do."[97] Though Sargsyan was not the chairman of the Republican Party, he was considered its unofficial leader.[126]

Alliance with Demirchyan

It was initially announced that the Republican Party would go to the parliamentary election alone and would seek "qualitative majority" in the parliament, and that their goal was the fairness of the electoral process.[127] In late December 1998, the opposition newspaper Iravunk suggested that Vazgen Sargsyan was distancing himself and the Republican Party from Kocharyan, and possibly seeking to form an alliance with Karen Demirchyan and his People's Party.[128]

Surprisingly for many, on 30 March 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan and the runner-up of the 1998 presidential election and Armenia's former Soviet leader Karen Demirchyan issued a joint announcement that they were forming an alliance between the People's Party of Armenia and the Republican Party.[49][129] It came to be known as the Unity bloc («Միասնություն» դաշինք), often referred to as Miasnutyun.[108] Vazgen Sargsyan claimed the bloc was a "genuine" alliance and that the two parties had come together to lead Armenia "from a turning point to progress."[129] Besides Sargsyan and Demirchyan, the Unity bloc had over 140 candidates, including Fadey Sargsyan, the President of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Andranik Margaryan, Albert Bazeyan, Tigran Torosyan.[130] In the 1999 election report, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe wrote that Sargsyan "obviously concluded it was better to have the popular Demirchyan as an ally than an opponent," and that "in forming Unity bloc, Sargsyan and Demirchyan overcame whatever ideological differences they may have had, and said they had joined forces to overcome the difficult problems facing Armenia while promoting tolerance in the country’'s political life."[108] In Armenian political analyst Richard Giragosian's words, the bloc was "an odd mix,"[131] while sociologist Levon Baghdasaryan described it as "unification of the new and old nomenklaturas."[114] The British Helsinki Human Rights Group claimed the Unity bloc "aimed to appeal to the electorate by being all things to all men."[100]

Karen Demirchyan (left) and Vazgen Sargsyan (right) during the election campaign of the Unity bloc in May 1999.

1999 parliamentary election

The election campaign for the parliamentary election began on 6 May 1999. During the campaign, Sargsyan pledged that he would spare no effort to make sure the elections were free and fair.[47] Sargsyan and Demirchyan put the emphasis of their campaign on the economy and the improvement of the life of ordinary Armenians. Demirchyan claimed that he joined Sargsyan because that was the only way of solving Armenia's economic problems. Talking about Yerkrapah (now politically transformed into the Republican Party), Sargsyan said he was confident "that the people that gained victory on the battlefield will also gain victory in economy." He expressed his optimism saying that they were sure that they "will jointly change something and find the right course." When asked about the reasons why he joined Demirchyan, Sargsyan said that, "there is no other way out."[113] The Unity bloc "called broadly for a democratic society, rule of law, economic reforms and a market economy, with the state also creating conditions for the normal functioning of state enterprises and ensuring decent living standards for all."[132] According to the CSCE, the bloc did not have a specific solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and "advocated Armenia'’s integration into the international community and the establishment of normal relations with all countries."[133]

Throughout the campaign, the Unity bloc was widely considered the favorite of the election.[132][53][134][135] The CSCE claimed that Sargsyan and Demirchyan as individuals formed the strength of the Unity bloc.[132] According to the Los Angeles-based ARF-aligned newspaper Asbarez, the strength of the Unity bloc was constituted in the fact that the Republican party had effective control of the local governments, and Demirchyan enjoyed high popularity among the public.[citation needed] The ODIHR claimed the "alliance was not only created for electoral purposes, but that a strategic political agreement had been reached while overcoming ideological differences."[136] According to Richard Giragosian, the bloc "effectively marginalized the electoral threat" of other parties.[137] Opposition newspaper Hayots ashkhar suggested that most other political parties in Armenia were gravitating towards the opposite pole, around Kocharyan, National Security & Interior Minister Serzh Sargsyan, and the leadership of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.[114]

The parliamentary election took place on 30 May 1999, just two months after Sargsyan's and Demirchyan's announcement about their decision to form an alliance. In total, 131 seats were conceded to the National Assembly—75 seats by single-member districts (constituencies) by first-past-the-post voting and 56 by party-list proportional representation. According to the final results of the Central Electoral Commission, almost 1,150,000 votes were cast, recording about a 55% turnout.[138] The Unity bloc won over 41.5% of the popular vote (448,133 votes).[139] A number of Unity bloc candidates won seats in single-member constituencies. The total number of seats won by the bloc was 62.[140][131][141] The alliance established an effective majority with cooperating with a group of 25 independent and officially non-affiliated members of the parliament, sympathetic to the Sargsyan-Demirchyan coalition.[142][40] Five other parties passed the 5% threshold: the Communists led by Sergey Badalyan, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Kocharyan's "most reliable supporters"),[111] Rule of Law supported by Serzh Sargsyan,[131] Right and Unity bloc led by Artashes Geghamyan, supported by General Samvel Babayan[114] and the National Democratic Union of Vazgen Manukyan.[143][144]

The electoral process was generally said to have been in relative improvement since the 1995, 1996 and 1998 elections.[145] The final report of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights described the election as "a step towards compliance with OSCE Commitments" and claimed that, along with improvements to the electoral framework and the political environment, serious issues remained.[146] The Council of Europe also suggested "considerable improvement" from the past elections. The National Democratic Institute report was more critical, saying it "failed to meet international standards" and that it proved to be the continuation of the flawed 1995 parliamentary elections, differing only in "the methods and types of manipulation."[137]

Prime Ministry

A "source within" the Unity bloc told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Sargsyan wanted to combine the positions of Defence Minister and Prime Minister.[147] However, this was impossible according to the Armenian constitution. Vazgen Sargsyan became Prime Minister of Armenia on 11 June 1999.[120][70][148] The other Unity bloc co-chairman, Karen Demirchyan, was elected speaker of the National Assembly.[149]

Many experts suggest that Vazgen Sargsyan, as Prime Minister, was the most powerful politician in Armenia,[150][40][151][152] and that his "activities had began to overshadow" Kocharyan.[153] Experts suggested that the Sargsyan-Demirchyan alliance "ultimately would bring about the resignation of Kocharian."[154][155] The British Helsinki Human Rights Group wrote in their 1999 report that "even though Kocharian formally welcomed the formation of the bloc, rumours circulated that the president was being sidelined and that he would eventually be ousted from power–or, at best, to quote Vazgen Manoukian, he would end up like the "Queen of England."[100] The CSCE claimed Kocharyan had been "effectively weakened"[70] and was now more dependent on Vazgen Sargsyan for "working majority in parliament and indeed for government adherence to presidential policies."[40] On 15 June 1999, President Kocharyan appointed the new cabinet members, mostly made up of experienced state officials. Vagharshak Harutiunyan, the representative of the Armenian Armed Forces at the Commonwealth of Independent States, came to replace Vazgen Sargsyan as Defence Minister.[156] Only four members of the Sargsyan cabinet were partisan.[111][157] Despite no longer being the Minister of Defence, Vazgen Sargsyan remained the de facto leader of the army.[79][158][159]

"Today the economic development of Armenia is as important as victory in the war was yesterday. Our battle has moved from the field of blood and heroism, to the economic field."

 —Vazgen Sargsyan, Armenia-Diaspora Conference, September 23, 1999[160]

Economic policy

At the time of Vazgen Sargsyan's Prime Ministry, Armenia had not yet recovered from the economic effects of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the energetic crisis Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. The poverty rate stood at around 80% according to the Human Development Report. Many Armenians relied on the financial support from abroad, especially Russia.[111] One of the major issues Sargsyan faces was the emigration from Armenian that started at the period of the decline of the Soviet regime. He described it "tragic," however, he emphasized that it was unnecessary to make it "out to be more tragic" and do a greater harm. In October 1999, he claimed the "outflow of the population is not of a mass character." Sargsyan said he saw the solution in both socio-economic and "ideological and moral" means.[161] The World Socialist Web Site held international creditors responsible for Armenia's economic hardships as they did not "leave much room for manoeuvres for the Armenian government to shape its policies more strongly according to the economic and social needs of the majority of the population."[111] The 1998 Russian financial crisis worsened the situation,[162] and showed a decline in human development.[163]

On 18 June 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan, in his first address to the parliament as Prime Minister, described Armenia's economic situation as "“grave." The budget revenues were almost 20% lower than the government had planned, because of the low level of tax collection and the high level of corruption in the Armenian economy. Although Sargsyan criticized the post-Soviet privatization by the Ter-Petrosyan government, he admitted Armenia had no alternative, and that his government had an enormous amount of work to do.[164][162] In his speech on 28 July, Sargsyan described the economic situation in Armenia as "extremely difficult, but not hopeless." According to him, the first half of 1999 saw $61 million less in the budged revenues than planned by the Darbinyan government. He said that tax evasion played a role in the budget deficit.[162]

Despite being criticized by the opposition, especially the National Democratic Union, the Unity bloc voted in favor (96 of the 131 MPs) of the austerity measures of the Sargsyan cabinet on 28 August, allowing Armenia to take loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank alone had loaned almost $0.5 billion to Armenia since 1992 to finance the budget deficits.[142] The Sargsyan cabinet wanted to diversify $32 million in the budget funds in order to be able to repay the internal debts. For this purpose, the excise tax was raised on cigarettes by 200% and on gasoline by 45%, seriously hitting the middle class.[162] Sargsyan described these as "painful but right steps" for getting the necessary amount of money from the foreign lenders. He pledged a "tougher crackdown on the shadow economy and more efficient governance."[165] National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchyan called for a greater role of the state in the economy to ensure stability,[142] while President Kocharyan was mostly uninvolved in these developments.[165]

On 21 July 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan visited Armenia's "strategic" partner Russia for the first time as Prime Minister where he mad meetings with high state officials, including PM Sergei Stepashin, Head of General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, Duma Lower House Deputy Speaker Artur Chilingarov, Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, and Rem Viakhirev, the chairman of Gazprom for gas-transit issues.[166] On 7 October 1999, Vazgen Sargsyan, along with his Defence Minister Vagharshak Harutiunyan and Head of the Government Staff Shahen Karamanukyuan, participated in the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) heads of government in Yalta, Ukraine. The Prime Ministers discussed the reforms of the organization, which introduced changes to the economic activities within and outside of the CIS member states. Sargsyan also met with State Minister of Georgia Vazha Lortkipanidze and Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko.[167]

Notable events

During his Prime Ministry, Sargsyan helped to organize three major events. On 28 August 1999, the first Pan-Armenian Games began in Yerevan. Over 1,400 Armenian athletes from 23 countries participated in the games.[168] The closing ceremony took place in the Yerevan Sports and Concerts Complex on September 5, with President Robert Kocharyan and Vazgen Sargsyan in attendance.[169] Just after the Games, which involved thousands of diaspora Armenian youth, the preparations for the eighth anniversary of Armenia's independence began.[170] On 21 September, the anniversary of the day in 1991 when Armenians voted in favor of leaving the Soviet Union in a referendum, a military parade was held in Yerevan's Republic Square. Vazgen Sargsyan "was visibly the most excited of the government leaders standing on a specially built pedestal." In a short briefing after the parade, Sargsyan enthusiastically stated that he had "touched almost every piece of hardware you've just seen" and continued that he "just wanted to show it" to the Armenian people.[171]

During the next two days, on 22 and 23 September 1999, the first Armenia-Diaspora Conference was held in Yerevan. The conference brought together the Armenian political elite and many diaspora organizations, political parties, religious leaders, writers and over 1,200 representatives of Armenian communities from 53 countries, an unprecedented number.[172][173] Vazgen Sargsyan opened the second day of the conference with his speech-report about the economic and social situation in Armenia. The conference was closed by Sargsyan.[174][175]


The building of the National Assembly of Armenia

Shooting and funeral

On 27 October 1999, at around 5:15 p.m.,[176][177] five men led by journalist and former ARF member Nairi Hunanyan,[40] armed with Kalashnikov rifles hidden under long coats,[176][178] broke into the National Assembly building on Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, while the government was holding a question-and-answer session. They shot dead Vazgen Sargsyan, National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchyan, Deputy National Assembly Speakers Yuri Bakhshyan and Ruben Miroyan, Minister of Urgent Affairs Leonard Petrosyan, and Parliament Members Henrik Abrahamyan, Armenak Armenakyan and Mikayel Kotanyan. The gunmen injured at least 30 people in the parliament.[154][179][180] Sargsyan's speech at the parliament was aired on the Public Radio of Armenia, but was stopped when the first shots were heard.[179]

Hunanyan was accompanied by his brother Karen and uncle Vram and two others.[181] The group claimed they were carrying out a coup d'état.[40][176][182][183] They described their act as "patriotic" and "needed for the nation to regain its senses."[176] They said they wanted to "punish the authorities for what they do to the nation" and described the government as profiteers "drinking the blood of the people."[40][177][184] They claimed Armenia was in a "catastrophic situation" and that "corrupt officials" were not doing anything to provide the way out.[180][184] Vazgen Sargsyan was the main target of the group[40] and the other deaths were said to be unintended.[184] According to reporters who witnessed the shooting, the men went up to Sargsyan and said, "Enough of drinking our blood," to which Sargsyan calmly responded, "Everything is being done for you and the future of your children."[184] Vazgen Sargsyan was hit several times.[185] Anna Israelyan, an eyewitness journalist, stated that "the first shots were fired directly at Vazgen Sargsyan at a distance of one to two meters" and, in her words, "it was impossible that he would have survived."[177] Gagik Saratikyan, a cameraman, was the first person from outside to be allowed to go into the building while the men were in control of it. Saratikyan recorded the dead bodies of Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan.[184] Sargsyan's body was taken out of the parliament building on the evening of October 27.[179]

Soon after the attack, hundreds of policemen and army forces personnel and two armored personnel carriers[176] were brought into Yerevan, positioned on Baghramyan Avenue surrounding the National Assembly building.[184] An anti-terrorist squad from Russia also participated in the operation.[178] Meanwhile, ambulance vehicles rushed to the site of the shooting.[177] President Robert Kocharyan was directing the operation of the security forces around the parliament building.[186] While holding around 50 hostages inside the building,[176] the men demanded a helicopter and airtime on national television for a political statement.[177][179][183]

President Robert Kocharyan gave a speech on TV, announcing that the situation was under control. His spokesman Vahe Gabrielyan was quick to characterize the men as "individual terrorists" and assured that "it's only the parliament building and a very small group."[185] After overnight negotiations with President Kocharyan, the gunmen released the hostages and gave themselves up on the morning of October 28, after a standoff[40][179][183] that lasted 17–18 hours.[187][188] Kocharyan had guaranteed the personal security of the gunmen and the right to a free trial.[176][189] In the meantime, the Armenian armed forces blocked the roads leading to Yerevan for security reasons.[190]

On 28 October 1999, President Kocharyan declared a three-day mourning period.[191] The state funeral ceremony for the victims of the parliament shooting took place from 30 October to 31 October 1999. The bodies of the victims, including Vazgen Sargsyan, were placed inside the Yerevan Opera Theater.[192][193] A number of high-ranking officials from around 30 countries, including the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, attended the funeral. Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians and Aram I, the Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia gave prayers.[194]

Investigation and conspiracy theories

The five men were charged with terrorism aimed at undermining authority on 29 October.[178] The investigation was led by Gagik Jhangiryan, the Chief Military Prosecutor of Armenia, who claimed his team was looking for the masterminds of the shooting even after the trial had begun.[195] According to Jhangiryan, the investigating team considered more than a dozen theories.[196] By January 2000, Jhangiryan's investigators considered the connection of Kocharyan and his circle to the parliament shooting.[197] Several figures close to Kocharyan were arrested, including Aleksan Harutiunyan, the Deputy Presidential Adviser, and Harutiun Harutiunyan, the Deputy Director of the Public Television of Armenia but, by the summer of that year, they were released.[188] Eventually, Jhangiryan failed to find evidence linking Kocharyan to the shooting.[188]

The investigation ended and the case was sent to court on 12 July 2000.[198] The trial began on February 15, 2001, in Yerevan's Kentron and Nork-Marash District Court.[199] The judicial case was transferred to the jurisdiction of Aghvan Hovsepyan, the Prosecutor General, and his office, which finally closed the case for lack of evidence.[200] The five main perpetrators of the shooting (Nairi Hunanyan, his younger brother Karen Hunanyan, their uncle Vram Galstyan, Derenik Ejanyan and Eduard Grigoryan) were sentenced to life in prison on December 2, 2003.[201]

Armenia's current president Serzh Sargsyan was the National Security Minister at the time of the shooting.

The motive behind the attack has not yet been fully explained, giving birth to a number of conspiracy theories.[202][203] Stepan Demirchyan, Karen Demirchyan's son, stated in 2009 that "nothing was done by the authorities to prevent that crime and, conversely, everything was done to cover up the crime."[204] In March 2013, Vazgen Sargsyan's younger brother Aram Sargsyan stated that he had many questions for both governments of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. He claimed the judicial process of 27 October "deepened the public distrust in the authorities," as "many questions remain unanswered today." According to him, the full disclosure of the shooting is "vital" for Armenia. Sargsyan, at the conclusion, insisted that he "never accused this or the former authorities of being responsible for October 27. I have accused them in not fully disclosing the 27 October event."[205] In an interview in April 2013, Rita Demirchyan, the widow of Karen Demirchyan, suggested that the shooting was commanded from outside of Armenia and that it was not an attempt at a coup, but rather an assassination.[206]

Although the investigation did not find any considerable evidence linking Kocharyan to the Hunanyan group, many Armenian politicians and analysts believe that President Robert Kocharyan and National Security Minister Serzh Sargsyan[188] were behind the assassination of Vazgen Sargsyan and other leading politicians.[154][204][200][207][208] Albert Bazeyan stated in 2002 that "We have come to the conclusion that the crime was aimed at making Robert Kocharian's power unlimited and uncontrolled. By physically eliminating Karen Demirchyan and Vazgen Sargsyan, its organizers wanted to create prerequisites for Kocharyan's victory in the future presidential elections."[152] Armenia's first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan accused Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan and their "criminal-oligarchic" system of being the real perpetrators of the parliament shooting.[204]

Nairi Hunanyan, the leader of the armed group, was a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, Dashnaktsutyun).[151] According to the ARF, Hunanyan was expelled from the party in 1992 for misconduct[181] and had not been in any association with the ARF since then.[40] Some speculations have been made about the involvement of the ARF in the shootings. Ashot Manucharyan stated in 2000 that he was worried that "a number of Dashnaktsutyun party leaders are acting in the interest of the American foreign policy."[209]

Alleged foreign involvement

Some analysts have suggested that foreign powers, including Russia, may have been behind the shooting. They pointed out the fact that Armenia and Azerbaijan were close in signing some kind of an agreement at the OSCE 1999 Istanbul summit over Karabakh, something not in Russia's interest.[208][210] The former Russian secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko accused the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of having organised the Armenian parliament shooting, ostensibly to derail the peace process, which would have resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but he offered no evidence to support the accusation.[211][212][213] Russian and Armenian officials denied this claims.[200][214]

The French-based Armenian political refugee and former Apostolic priest Artsruni Avetisysan (also known by his religious name Ter Girgor) gave an interview to Armenian media network A1plus, in which he claimed the Russian secret services were behind the October 27, 1999, shooting.[215] He also claimed the shooting was perpetrated by Lieutenant General Vahan Shirkhanyan, the Deputy Minister of Defense from 1992 to 1999, and the National Security Minister Serzh Sargsyan. He insisted the shooting was assisted by the Russian secret services in order to bring the "Neo-Bolshevik criminal clan" of Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan into power.[216]

Others suggested that it was in the best interest of the West to remove Sargsyan and Demirchyan from the political scene, as they had close ties to Russia.[208] Ashot Manucharyan, one of the leading members of the Karabakh Committee, the former Minister of Internal Affairs and Levon Ter-Petrosyan's National Security Adviser and his close ally until 1993, stated in October 2000 that Armenian officials were warned by a foreign country about the shootings. He also declared that "Western special services" were involved in the 27 October events. In Manucharyan's words, "the special services of the U.S. and France are acting to destroy Armenia and, in this context, they are much likely to be involved in the realization of the terrorist acts in Armenia."[209] Manucharyan claimed the shooting was planned by Kocharyan in order to get rid of his two major rivals (Sargsyan and Demirchyan), who were against the Goble plan, involving territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.[217]


Just after the shooting, the Interior and National Security Ministers Suren Abrahamyan and Serzh Sargsyan resigned as a result of pressure from the Defence Ministry, led by Vazgen Sargsyan's close ally Vagharshak Harutiunyan at the time.[178][218][219] From early June to late October 1999, the political system in Armenia was based on the Demirchyan-Sargsyan tandem, which controlled the military, the legislative and the executive branches. Their assassination disrupted the political balance in the country and the political arena of Armenia was left in disarray for months.[49] The "de facto dual command" of Sargsyan and Demirchyan transferred to President Robert Kocharyan.[220] James R. Hughes claims that the so-called "Karabakh clan" (i.e. Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan) was "kept in check" by Vazgen Sargsyan and his "military-security apparatus," while after the parliament shooting it came out to be the sole influential group able to successfully take over the political scene in Armenia.[112] Since the leaders of the Unity bloc were assassinated, the two parties in the alliance (the Republican Party of Armenia and the People's Party of Armenia) gradually lost edges of collaboration and, by late 2000, the Unity bloc collapsed.[221] Yerkrapah, the Republican Party, and the People's Party effectively lost their influence by 2001.[112]

Personal life and brothers

Sargsyan never married. According to Razmik Martirosyan, a friend and the Minister of Social Security from 1999 to 2003, Sargsyan promised in December 1987 that he would marry sometime before March 8 of the next year. The Karabakh movement started in February 1988 and Martirosyan claimed that the popular movement "did what it did."[222] In a 1997 interview, Sargsyan revealed that his favorite historical military figure was Charles de Gaulle. When asked about what kind of Armenia he would like to see in five years, he said "an independent, self-sufficient country with strong culture, school and army."[11]

Aram Sargsyan, Vazgen Sargsyan's brother

Sargsyan had two younger brothers, Aram and Armen. Aram was appointed Prime Minister by President Kocharyan on 3 November 1999,[223] a week after Vazgen Sargsyan's death, largely as a "political gesture."[224] He admitted that Armenia has "no concept of state security" and that fact led to the assassination of his brother.[225] Aram Sargsyan served in the position of the Prime Minister for only six months. He was dismissed by Kocharyan on 2 May 2000,[226] due to "inability to work" with Sargsyan's cabinet.[227][228] In his television statement, Kocharyan claimed that he relieved Aram Sargsyan to end the "disarray" in the Armenian leadership. Kocharyan blamed him for being involved in "political games."[229]

Aram Sargsyan founded the Republic (Hanrapetutyun) party in April 2001, along with several influential Yerkrapah members, such as the former Mayor of Yerevan Albert Bazeyan and former Defence Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan. Its co-founder Bazeyan stated that the party is the "bearer of the political heritage of Vazgen Sargsian and will try to realize the programs aborted by the October 27 crime and its consequences."[230] The party backed up Stepan Demirchyan against Kocharyan in 2003[231] and Levon Ter-Petrosyan against Serzh Sargsyan in the 2008 presidential elections.[224] In a 2013 interview, Aram Sargsyan talked about the past 14 years after his brother's death:

If things were done as Vazgen Sargsyan wanted, I would not be in opposition and I would do everything I could to make his wishes come true. Today, I'm fighting for his wishes to be realized. His wishes were very simple. He wanted to see a strong Armenia. Vazgen was an optimist, and he spread hope, honesty, dedication, love for the fatherland. The president after Vazgen did the opposite. He only saw materialism and selfishness in people and encouraging those values he remained in power, thus polluting the country.[205]

Vazgen Sargsyan's other brother, Armen, supported Serzh Sargsyan in the 2013 presidential election.[232][233] On 5 March 2013, Aram Sargsyan was asked about his brother's political stance, to which he responded, "I would very much like to ask Vazgen that question. I don't know what he would have answered. I don't know Vazgen's answers to very few questions. Unfortunately, our friends and relatives are not always the way we want them to be. I am not the first one, neither am I the last one; the history of the world is full of such examples starting from the Bible."[234]

Legacy and tribute

Vazgen Sargsyan's memorial in Yerablur

Vazgen Sargsyan was awarded the Hero of Artsakh title, the highest award of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in 1998.[7] On 27 December 1999, two months after the parliament shooting, Sargsyan was posthumously given the National Hero of Armenia title.[235] He widely is recognized as the founder of the Armenian army.[236][237][238]

A presidential decree issued on 28 December 1999, named the Yerevan military academy Vazgen Sargsyan Military Institute in his honor.[239] The Republican Stadium in Yerevan was named after Vazgen Sargsyan by the same decree. Numerous streets in Armenia and Karabakh,[6] including one in Yerevan's Kentron (Central) district[240] and in Stepanakert,[241] and a park in Kapan[242] are named after Sargsyan. Statues were erected in his honor in Yerevan (2007),[243] Ararat (2009),[244][245] Vanadzor[246] Shusha[247] and other locations. In 2000, 27 October was declared a day of remembrance by the Armenian government.[248] In 2002, the Armenian Defence Ministry created the Medal of Vazgen Sargsyan, which is awarded for "meritorious services towards military education and improvements in service life."[249]

Sargsyan's Museum in Ararat

Every year on March 5 (his birthday) and 27 October (the day of the parliament shooting),[250] Sargsyan is commemorated in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. His comrades from the Yerkrapah Volunteer Union,[251] high state officials and many others visit the Yerablur cemetery, where many Armenian military figures are buried.[252]

Vazgen Sargsyan's museum was opened in his hometown of Ararat on 5 March 2001 by the decision made by the Armenian government.[253] Notable attendees of the opening ceremony of the museum included Premier Minister Andranik Margaryan, National Assembly Speaker Armen Khachatryan, Defence Minister Serzh Sargsyan, and other high-ranking military and diplomatic representatives, such as the former Russian Minister of Defence Pavel Grachev, who revealed in his speech at the ceremony that Sargsyan was once his student.[254]

Sargsyan is often referred to as Sparapet, a military rank that has existed since the Kingdom of Armenia. The phrase "Սպարապետ Հայոց" Sparapet Hayots (literal meaning "Commander of the Armenians") is engraved on Sargsyan's memorial in Yerablur cemetery.[255] The song "Sparapet" by Alla Levonyan is dedicated to his memory.[256]

Public image and recognition

"The public doesn't really know me. Only people in my inner circle know me well. Others identify me by the beard, always mad, sweaty and that is today's image. People don't understand me, they are scared of me."

 —Vazgen Sargsyan[257][258]

In Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and, to a lesser extent, in the Armenian diaspora,[255] Vazgen Sargsyan is recognized as a national hero. Several survey conducted by Gallup, Inc., International Republican Institute, and the Armenian Sociological Association from 2006 to 2008, revealed that Vazgen Sargsyan topped the list of national heroes, with 15%-20% of the respondents giving his name. He left behind the two prominent early 20th century military commanders Andranik and Garegin Nzhdeh.[259] Sargsyan was generally perceived as a man of "tremendous power and charisma," known for his "brutality, temper, and nonchalant attitude toward the law."[260]

Sargsyan on a 2000 post stamp

Vazgen Sargsyan's contributions have been acknowledged by his colleagues and comrades. In 1997, President Ter-Petrosyan stated Vazgen Sargsyan is someone who deserves the title of National Hero of Armenia. He added that "if all members of our government worked as conscientiously and selflessly as Vazgen Sargsyan, we would live in a perfect state."[65] Armenia's second president Robert Kocharyan said in his speech during Sargsyan's funeral, "history will provide its assessment of Vazgen Sargsyan as a politician who stood at the birth of the Armenian state. His role in the creation of the national army is beyond appraisal. By his life and commitment, Vazgen Sargsyan has made an immense contribution to the establishment of a powerful country."[193] In 2007, giving a speech on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Armenian Armed Forces, the Defence Minister Serzh Sargsyan (and the incumbent president) noted that Vazgen Sargsyan "was a valiant soldier dedicated to the cause of our statehood, and who revered the strength of Armenia and the strength of the Armenian soldier, and who had a staunch belief in our future success."[261] Dr. Ara Sanjian, the director of the Armenian Studies at the Haigazian University in Beirut, wrote shortly after Sargsyan's assassination:

History will rightly remember Vazgen Sargsyan as the founder of the modern Armenian armed forces and one of the chief architects behind the victories in recent years on the Karabagh front. Comparisons made in recent days with Vardan Mamikonian and Andranik Ozanian are certainly not exaggerations in the technical sense. He seems to have been a personality who never ran away from shouldering the toughest of responsibilities and seemed to end always on the winning side.[262]

Vazgen Sargsyan Street in central Yerevan

In the Western media, Vazgen Sargsyan was generally described as a strong nationalist.[263] British journalist Jonathan Steele wrote of Sargsyan as "a fierce nationalist who always preferred action and force to words and diplomacy."[264] Encyclopædia Britannica calls him an "Armenian nationalist who devoted much of his life to the Armenian fight with Azerbaijan for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave."[265] Lowell Barrington, the chair of the Department of Political Science at Marquette University, called Sargsyan "the last significant nationalist politician whose commitment to Karabakh and Armenia was not doubted by anyone."[260]

Sargsyan was sometimes criticized for being undemocratic, particularly for using his influence in pre-determining the election results.[47] The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe claimed that his "record does not inspire confidence in his commitment to democracy."[158] The 2008 book Religious Freedom in the World described him as "thuggish" and held him responsible for the 1995 assaults on religious minorities in Armenia (especially those that discourage military service),[186] carried out, allegedly, by Yerkrapah.[266] British journalist Thomas de Waal described Sargsyan as a "feudal baron," and claimed that Yerkrapah controlled "large areas of the economy."[2]

See also


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