Armenian president quits over lack of influence in 'difficult times'

Armen Sarkissian's resignation comes in challenging times after war with Azerbaijan

Armenia's departing President, Armen Sarkissian. Reuters

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian on Sunday announced that he was resigning his largely ceremonial position because his office was unable to influence policy during times of national crisis.

The announcement comes after a period of instability in the small and economically struggling former Soviet nation following a war with its long-standing rival, Azerbaijan.

Armenia's humiliating defeat and loss of disputed territory in late 2020 sparked massive street rallies and a domestic crisis that pitted Mr Sarkissian against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

"This is not an emotionally driven decision and it comes from a specific logic," Mr Sarkissian said on his official website.

"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."

At the core of that disagreement was the dismissal of the Armenian military's chief of staff, and Mr Sarkissian refused to sign an order from Mr Pashinyan to see him moved, in what was a serious blow to the embattled prime minister.

The departing president said at the time that the crisis could not be defused through frequent personnel changes.

Mr Sarkissian late on Sunday lashed out at a "reality in which the president cannot veto laws that he believes to be bad for the people and the country".

He said various political groups in the landlocked country regarded the office of the presidency not as a boon to Armenia, but as "a danger to them".

"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," Mr Sarkissian said.

The war, which killed more than 6,000 people, saw Russian peacekeepers sent to the disputed mountainous region.

Armenia's constitution stipulates that the parliament, which is controlled by parties aligned with Mr Pashinyan, should hold a vote to decide the next president within 35 days.

Mr Sarkissian, a former physics teacher, was born in 1953 in the capital Yerevan. He served as prime minister between 1996 and 1997, according to an official biography.

He was Armenia's ambassador to the UK when he was elected president in March 2018 by the legislature.

The announcement of Mr Sarkissian's resignation comes shortly after his office announced that he would be taking a leave of absence to undergo medical checks, without providing details.

Armenia's economy has struggled since the Soviet collapse and money sent home by Armenians abroad has aided the construction of schools, churches and other infrastructure projects, including in Nagorno-Karabakh, the region at the centre of the war with Azerbaijan.

Armenia has a large and politically powerful diaspora spread across the world after Ottoman-era massacres, and is now estimated at 10 million people, mostly in Russia, the US and France.

Updated: January 23, 2022, 9:47 PM