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"DIPLOMATIC ROTATION" OR ELIMINATION? President Kocharian dismisses senior ambassador in continuing power consolidation. Armenian News Network / Groong April 21, 2000 By Groong Research & Analysis Group On Wednesday, April 20, 2000, President Robert Kocharian dismissed Armen Sarkissian, Armenia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the country's most senior diplomat in Europe. President Kocharian did not provide any explanation for Ambassador Sarkissian's dismissal. Foreign Ministry sources only said that his sacking was in line with recent efforts to reduce ambassadorial tenures to a "maximum of four years", but Sarkissian's sacking reveals a deeper political malaise in Armenia. The new "four year" tenure policy falls short of explaining the true motives. Mr. Armen Sarkissian returned to diplomatic service one-and-a-half years ago after a two-year gap between his first and second ambassadorial appointments. Between his resignation as Prime Minister in March 1997 and his reappointment as ambassador, Mr. Sarkissian underwent extensive medical treatment, following which he worked as senior advisor for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for a year. In March, 2000, President Kocharian's political maneuvers started by dividing the ranks of his arch-rival Yerkrapah Union, which enjoys the patronage of Prime Minister Aram Sarkisyan. The president broke the "ideological consensus" within the Union by promoting two of its key figures to high military posts. Next, he issued a decree reiterating his constitutional prerogative to name all senior military officials and reshuffled the government after having struck up unspecified agreements with defectors from the opposition. Having regained control over the country's internal political levers, Mr. Kocharian is now turning his attention to neutralizing the "second tier" of potential threats to his power. Ambassador Sarkisian's contacts in England and large network of associates in Europe over the last 16 years have proven to be valuable resources for Armenia and its institutional development. An accomplished physicist and author of numerous publications on computer modeling, theoretical physics and political science, he has been a visiting professor at the Universities of Cambridge and London since 1984, concurrently with his ambassadorial appointment. Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal comes at a time when, as Armenpress reported, "the preparations for The Economic Conference on Armenia in London are in full swing." Ambassador Sarkissian has been a leading force behind the organization of a large Business Forum in London, scheduled for October of this year, with the participation of the leaders of World Bank, EBRD, IFC and other international financial institutions, corporate investors in the Diaspora and senior executives of multinational corporations. Last month, Mr. Sarkissian was in Moscow for negotiations with business leaders concerning the London Forum. More than any other Armenian mission abroad, Mr. Sarkissian and his embassy succeeded in their pursuit to provide fuel for developing Armenia's economy. Through direct contacts with large multinational companies, his personal and professional relations with international financial institutions and a number of large private investors, Ambassador Sarkissian created significant interest among investors to Armenia in recent years, raising the United Kingdom to rank first among foreign investments in Armenia while becoming its third largest trade partner. He was also behind the idea and establishment of the Armenian Development Agency and its London office, which will be formally inaugurated in October. In light of these accomplishments and at a time when direct foreign investments in Armenia have plunged to critical levels and the country's image abroad has been marred by recurring political upheavals, Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal can only be explained as a move on Mr. Kocharian's political chess board, as his ability to lead the country out of its worsening political, social and economic decline becomes a major source of concern in Armenia and abroad. As the situation worsened in the republic since the events of October 27, political circles and the media in Armenia have at times called for Mr. Kocharian's resignation and continue the sporadic searches for individuals who could lead Armenia out of the existing political quagmire. On the "short list" of leaders - with integrity and "clean" character - Mr. Sarkissian is seen as a most suitable person who can do the job. But while Mr. Sarkissian's name has been discussed in and outside of Armenia as a possible successor for Mr. Kocharian, AIM Magazine reported him to have privately, and publicly stated that he is not seeking such a post. Nevertheless, unlike many other names circulated as possible presidential prospects for Armenia, Mr. Sarkissian poses a real challenge to Mr. Kocharian's grip on power. The president, having succeeded Mr. Sarkissian as prime minister, is closely familiar with his predecessor's leadership, work style, and especially the support he enjoys among the population, political actors and the Diaspora. And while the exact reasons for Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal from his diplomatic post remain to be seen, it's clear that Mr. Kocharian is eliminating strong competitors to his rule, even outside Armenia. In March 1997, when he was appointed Prime Minister of Armenia, Mr. Kocharian did not present a program, but said he would continue outgoing Prime Minister Sarkissian's program and policies. The key elements of that program were to fight corruption, reform Armenia's legal system, freedom of the press and, most essentially, the "unification of the whole nation." Mr. Sarkissian's dismissal hints at the president's retreat from these national goals.