A Caucasian Puzzle

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Armenian President Armen Sarkissian recently resigned from office because he felt that he possessed too little power. “The president does not have the necessary tools to influence the radical processes of domestic and foreign policy in these difficult times for the country…,” Sarkissian said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Armenian presidency is a largely ceremonial position, one that is now filled by Vahagn Khachatrian, an economist and veteran politician, after being sworn in on March 13. Sarkissian, meanwhile, is not one to be satisfied with symbolic authority.

A tycoon with numerous business interests, Sarkissian helped create an offshoot of the popular computer game Tetris, wrote the Armenian-Mirror Spectator. Elected in 2018, he was president in April 2018 during the Velvet Revolution that ousted the corrupt and autocratic Republican Party from power and helped negotiate a peaceful end to those tensions.

More recently, Sarkissian called on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign after Armenia’s loss against neighboring Azerbaijan, another ex-Soviet republic, in a 44-day war that resulted in Azerbaijan seizing control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within its borders, reported Eurasianet. More than 6,500 people perished in the fighting. He also chose not to support Pashinyan’s decision to fire the Armenian army’s chief of staff for allegedly planning a coup after the loss.

Today, protesters regularly take to the streets of Yerevan, the capital, to demand that Pashinyan resigns for losing Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia had controlled since winning a war against Azerbaijan in the 1990s, reported Reuters.

Pashinyan has pledged to pursue democratic reforms, noted Armenpress, the state-owned news agency, including revamping the judicial system, which many Armenians view as corrupt. But many Armenians don’t necessarily feel as if those measures can be enacted quickly enough. His critics, meanwhile, say he’s not doing enough to breathe life into the country’s moribund economy.

The former president’s desire for a more substantive role in his country and the prime minister’s weakness have led many observers to conclude that Sarkissian is angling to replace Pashinyan. Elections aren’t scheduled for years but Sarkissian would certainly face big decisions if Pashinyan did resign and an election was called.

Armenia and Turkey lack official diplomatic relations, which have been frozen since Turkey cut ties with Armenia in 1993 to support its ally, Azerbaijan, in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. The two sides are now discussing a reproachment, Al Jazeera wrote. Relations with Azerbaijan are still tense but Armenia has little leverage, the International Crisis Group added. Armenian relations with Russia, meanwhile, remain very close but also arguably make the smaller country overly dependent on the larger one. That’s tricky given the war in Ukraine.

They’re the types of puzzles a man like Sarkissian might enjoy solving.

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