Yesterday, Armen Sarkissian, the former Armenian Ambassador to Great Britain, was inaugurated as the fourth President of the Republic of Armenia in a ceremony that took place at the Karen Demirchyan Sport and Concert Complex in Yerevan. The decision to bar journalists from the ceremony had been announced prior to the ceremony, reported RFE/RL.
In his inauguration speech, the new president touched on some of the main issues affecting Armenian society and throughout his address, made pleas for unity across Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora.
“We will succeed if apart from criticizing others, we come up with appropriate solutions; if instead of creating divides, we unite and work together,” President Sarkissian said in his remarks. Sarkissian had been elected to the post on March 2 by the National Assembly with a strong majority; 90 votes for and 10 against.
President Sarkissian also praised the new system of governance the country is entering, which many speculate renders his new role purely ceremonial.
“Today, we are on the threshold of the 100th anniversary of the First Republic and are shifting to the parliamentary system of governance. That is, on the one hand, we have a 100-year history of republican governance and, on the other hand, we are symbolically starting a new page,” Sarkissian noted. “A century ago, after the heavy losses suffered by the Armenian people, superhuman efforts and deeds were needed to save and sustain the tiny piece of land that remained from our great homeland. In honor of the previous generations, both during the First and Second Republics, our nation managed to not only stand on its own feet, but also to introduce itself to the world in a dignified manner,” he added. A full English transcription of President Sarkissian’s inaugural speech can be found on the website of the president’s office.
On the day of his inauguration, Armenia became a completely parliamentary governing system, where the prime minister will be the number one official. In line with this, Serge Sarkisian offered his official resignation. National Assembly factions will have the right to nominate new candidates for the prime minister role until April 16. Elections for the new prime minister will take place on April 17 at the special sitting of the National Assembly.
Reports also emerged about Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan’s talks with former President Serge Sarkisian last Saturday to discuss next steps. In a statement published yesterday to the government’s website, Karapetyan confirmed that the former president will be the first candidate for future Prime Minister, citing the importance of “moving smoothly, efficiently and minimize risks to the new governance system.”
Speaking to local reporters on Monday, leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Parliamentary faction and head of the party’s political affairs Armen Rustamyan said that the party has big expectations for the incoming president. “The expectations are great because the systematic reforms we are planning for are directly connected to the president who, in fact, must become the guarantor of the Constitution,” Rustamyan said.
When speaking about who will fill the role of Armenia’s Prime Minister, the party leader noted that the ARF will respect the ruling Republican Party of Armenia’s (RPA) choice for the job. “We have already mentioned that we will respect any decision of the Republican Party [for a nominee]. This is one of the provisions stipulated by the coalition agreement,” he said, noting that neither party has yet discussed the issue of candidacy.
In his comments, Rustamyan ruled out the ARF’s possible withdrawal from the ruling coalition with the RPA if the Tsarukyan bloc joins the bloc. “We are not against cooperating with any political force, whether it is a coalition or another format of cooperation, if it corresponds to our goals and objectives,” Rustamyan noted.
While the ceremony was taking place, protesters from the “My Step” movement continued their march. The movement, which rallies behind the hashtag #իմքայլ (իմ քայլ translates to “my step”), is a 14-day campaign led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan to protest against President Sarkisian and the ruling RPA. As part of the campaign, protesters have committed to marching 200 kilometres from Gyumri to Yerevan, taking nearly 300,000 steps to reach the Liberty Square in downtown Yerevan where they will hold a rally at 6:30 p.m. on April 13. Yesterday, marchers gathered for a tree planting to “celebrate” the departure of former-President Sarkisian from the Armenian government.
“Today is April 9, a wonderful day,” Pashinyan told reporters at Hetq.am during the tree-planting, “because today Serge Sarkisian is leaving the government and our task is to make sure that this departure is irretrievable, that is why we plan to plant a farewell tree today.” Pashinyan read aloud the words of Serge Sarkisian on April 10, 2014, that he will not run for presidency and will not nominate his post.
Assuming the role of watchdog, journalists at Hetq.am in partnership with journalists at the Austrian news site Dossier released a report summarizing Sarkissian’s business investments, which utilized investigative reporting tools from the non-profit Investigative Dashboard.
Following the inauguration, President Sarkissian received congratulatory notes from a number of world leaders, including her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.