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Tuesday, March 31, 1998 Published at 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK



World: Analysis

Robert Kocharian - Armenia's new president?

The new president of Armenia looks set to become Robert Kocharian, the current prime minister.

He has a tough image, being the man who led the war effort against Azerbaijan in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, and opinion is divided as to what kind of president he will make.

Our regional analyst Tom de Waal outlines his rise to power and what it could mean:

Robert Kocharian's rise in Armenia has been spectacular.

He has only been in mainstream politics for a year, becoming prime minister last March, after being leader of the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh.

Then he was the leading figure behind a plot to get rid of the former president Levon Ter-Petrosian.

At the beginning of the election campaign there was controversy as to whether he should be allowed to stand: he had only just acquired an Armenian passport and still said he was a citizen of Nagorno Karabakh.

He was finally allowed to compete only after a narrow vote in favour by the Central Electoral Commission.

Powerful backers

It was clear from the start that he had powerful backers: the army, Armenia's best-organized party, the Dashnaks, as well as the many voters who are passionate about the Karabakh issue.

But he lost votes to his main rival, Karen Demirchian, by being a rather awkward campaigner, being too low-key and soft-spoken. In his later rallies he did manage to appeal to voters.

In effect Mr Kocharian and Mr Demirchian spoke for two different kinds of Armenia.

Mr Demirchian, the former Communist leader, was the candidate of the Soviet republic and those who remembered how well they lived there in Soviet days.

Symbol of Karabakh victory

Mr Kocharian had a broader nationalist constituency, as well as proving a competent reformer as prime minister.

According to Tigran Nardalian, a young television journalist who worked for Mr Kocharian, he is a symbol of victory in the Karabakh war.

"In his programme he speaks about the unity of the nation, not only the Armenians of Karabakh, but the Armenians of the diaspora."

Intelligent but tough and unyielding

Mr Kocharian is just 43. He worked as an engineer in the carpet-weaving factory in Stepanakert before joining the movement to break away from Azerbaijan.

Later he was elected leader of the breakaway region.

He comes across as an intelligent man with a strong grasp of details and also as a tough and unyielding politician in pursuit of his political goals.

Implications for peace unclear

The big unanswered question is whether Mr Kocharian will be merely stubborn on the Karabakh issue or show some flexibility.

Probably he will be stubborn, try to maintain the status quo and press for some concessions from Azerbaijan.

In particular he insists that the Azerbaijanis must talk directly to the Karabakh leadership.

One more hopeful point of view holds that any deal struck with Azerbaijan must be sold to the Karabakhis - and even if they refuse to talk to the Karabakhis directly, the Azerbaijanis will in effect be doing so by talking to Mr Kocharian.

So in the long-term Mr Kocharian may be the best man to deliver a peace settlement over the mountainous territory.
 





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