President Armen Sarkissian released a surprise statement on Sunday announcing his resignation.
In the statement, Sarkissian attributed his decision to the limits placed by the Constitution on the power of the president to influence policy in times of national crisis. However, an article by Hetq.am reveals that Sarkissian resigned after the independent investigative news outlet learned of his illegal citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Sarkissian wrote that the president does not have the “necessary tools to influence the fundamental processes in domestic and foreign policy.” He lamented the incapacity of the president to “influence issues related to war and peace,” “veto those bills that he considers inappropriate for the state and people,” “use a crucial part of his potential to solve systemic domestic and foreign policy issues,” or possess the “constitutional tools to help his country” in a time of global “constant turbulence.” Instead, the president’s capabilities “are not perceived as an advantage for the state but are viewed as a threat to various political groups.”
He added that the head of state and his family have become “targets for attacks by various political groups.”
“Though they do not show much interest in the achievements of the institution of the President for the good of the country, they stay very focused on my past and all sorts of conspiracy theories and myths. This ‘concern’ about my personality began to go beyond the bounds of morality, which has ultimately affected my health,” the statement reads.
Contrary to Sarkissian’s explanation, an investigation by Hetq.am published on Monday reveals that Sarkissian actually resigned after he was contacted by journalists regarding his secret second citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.
According to Hetq.am, Sarkissian held a passport for the Caribbean nation as late as 2017, shortly before his election the following year. Under Article 124 of the Armenian Constitution, the president must have held citizenship of only the Republic of Armenia for the preceding six years. Therefore, all of the decrees signed by Sarkissian to date, including various laws and the appointment of public officials, are illegal documents.
Sarkissian told Hetq.am that he was granted citizenship automatically through a citizenship-by-investment program in return for his holdings in a St. Kitts and Nevis hotel.
“The investment was the driving factor. I was not interested in the passport at all,” Sarkissian told Hetq.am.
Sarkissian said that he instructed the company that organized his investment to put his citizenship on hold prior to being appointed Armenian ambassador to the United Kingdom in 2013. In 2017, he discovered that the process had not been carried out, and he contacted his legal counsel to repeat his request.
Hetq.am has not disclosed details regarding when Sarkissian obtained St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship. “We cannot provide many details of the investigation at this stage as it is a cross border investigation and not yet complete,” the article reads.
Hetq.am contacted Sarkissian during his final official visit to the United Arab Emirates. After his visit to the UAE, he resigned and departed for a vacation “to undergo the necessary medical examination.” According to Hetq.am, Sarkissian can be prosecuted for forging official documents if he returns to Armenia.
The office of the president responded to the investigation by stating that the “true reasons for the President’s resignation are clearly and fully presented in the text of his resignation statement.” “Unfortunately, the Hetq.am publication and the like are an attempt to divert public attention by a false agenda again,” the statement reads.
The Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia has forwarded Hetq.am’s article to the National Security Service (NSS) for further investigation.
Sarkissian began his political career in the 1990s as a diplomat for the newly formed Republic of Armenia in the United Kingdom. He briefly served as prime minister for four months in 1996 under President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, until he was replaced by Robert Kocharyan.
For the following decade he lived in the United Kingdom as a British citizen and worked as a consultant for various multinational corporations, including British Petroleum and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. During this time, he built a multi-million dollar business empire, according to an earlier investigation by Hetq.am. While Sarkissian has said that he renounced his British citizenship in 2011, the NSS is investigating whether he held British citizenship prior to his election, when he served as Armenian ambassador to the UK from 2013-2018.
In March 2018, Sarkissian was elected president of Armenia by a parliament dominated by former President Serge Sargsyan’s Republican Party. His election was the final step in transitioning from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system, under which the president would serve as a ceremonial figurehead. Sarkissian was sworn in as president one month later amid the Velvet Revolution that removed Sargsyan and swept current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power.
In the past year, Sarkissian has at several points vocalized his disagreement with the prime minister’s administration. After the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, he joined calls for PM Pashinyan’s resignation and distanced himself from the ceasefire agreement. In March 2021 he refused to sign a draft decree dismissing the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan, issued by the prime minister’s office after Armenia’s military brass demanded Pashinyan’s resignation.
Under the Constitution, the National Assembly must elect a new president within 35 days after the office becomes vacant. The president is elected with at least three fourths of the vote, or by at least 81 of the 107 members of parliament. If a candidate is not elected in the first round, then nominees compete in a second round of elections within 10 days for at least three fifths of the vote. The ruling Civil Contract Party currently holds 71 seats in the National Assembly.
Several Armenian news outlets have reported that the Civil Contract Party will nominate Arayik Harutyunyan, PM Pashinyan’s chief of staff and former Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, for the position.
Civil Contract Party deputy Artur Hovhannisyan told news.am that while many names are circulated during deliberations, the party has not made an official decision. “It must be taken into account that President Armen Sarkissian still has a chance to withdraw his letter of resignation,” he said.
During a press conference on Monday, PM Pashinyan said that the presidential nominee should “ensure political harmony between the president, the government and the parliament majority.”
The opposition parliamentary factions have not yet announced any candidates for presidency.