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Armenia: Karabakh 'President' Leading Contender For Prime Minister

Yerevan, 19 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Deputies in Armenia's Parliament tell our correspondent today that President Levon Ter-Petrosyan is considering naming the president of the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharyan, as Armenia's new prime minister.

A presidential spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the accounts given our correspondent, but sources do tell RFE/RL that Kocharyan is currently in Yerevan, consulting top Armenian officials.

Ter-Petrosyan last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Armen Sarkisian, who resigned because of poor health. Sarkisian remains in a London hospital, where he underwent throat surgery last month. Sarkisian had served as prime minister for only four months, since early November 1996, but had won widespread admiration for his professionalism and his willingness to engage in dialogue with the political opposition.

Several possible candidates for prime minister had been identified, including former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghyan, currently mayor of Yerevan; and the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Gagik Harutyunyan, who served as Vice President and Prime Minister from November 1991 until June 1992. Harutyunyan has said he will refuse the post if offered. Siradeghyan told our correspondent last week that he would accept "if there is no other way for the government and the situation to be resolved."

Robert Sedrakovich Kocharyan was born in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, on August 31, 1954. On graduating from highschool he worked in a factory in Stepanakert before serving in the Soviet army from 1972-1974. He graduated in 1982 from the Yerevan Polytechnical Institute, and then embarked on a career in the Komsomol and the Communist Party in Nagorno-Karabakh. Beginning in 1988, he played an active role in the movement for the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. In 1990, he was elected a deputy to Armenia's first post-Communist Parliament, of which Levon Ter-Petrosyan became Chairman.

Nagorno-Karabakh unilaterally declared its independence from Azerbaijan in September 1991, following the failed coup against then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. In December 1994, the parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh named Kocharyan president. He was reelected to that post for a further four years in November, last year, with 89 percent of the vote, in elections that were not recognized as valid by the international community.

A cease-fire agreement ending hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict went into effect in May 1994.