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Armenia: Foreign Minister Resigns In Deepening Crisis

Yerevan, 2 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Armenia's Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian today submitted his resignation. Our Yerevan correspondent says it is not clear whether Arzumanian's resignation is related to the ongoing debate in Armenia's government over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Arzumanian, an ally of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, has pledged his support to Ter-Petrosyan's Karabakh policy, which endorses a phased settlement. The policy is rejected by the leadership of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, as well as by Armenia's Prime Minister Robert Kocharian. Kocharian was Karabakh's president until he become Armenia's prime minister.

Arzumanian's resignation follows that of another key Ter-Petrosyan ally, Vano Siradeghian, as mayor of Yerevan. Siradeghian is also chairman of the governing Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), which has supported Ter-Petrosyan's Karabakh policy.

In addition, an influential organization of Karabakh war veterans in Armenia has joined opposition demands for the resignation of President Ter-Petrosyan. The vice chairman of the veterans' group, Albert Bazeyan, yesterday said Ter-Petrosyan must step down. Bazeyan criticized what he called Ter-Petrosyan's "defeatist policy" on Karabakh.

The veterans' group is linked to Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. Sarkisian, as well as Prime Minister Kocharian and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who oppose what they view as Ter-Petrosyan's more conciliatory policy toward a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Our correspondent reports the veterans' group was summoned to help suppress violent opposition protests over Ter-Petrosyan's controversial re-election in September 1996. Bazeyan says his group made a "wrong choice" supporting Ter-Petrosyan, and will now closely cooperate with opposition forces. The veterans' group claims more than 5,000 members, and, with two dozen deputies in parliament, is among Armenia's best organized and powerful organizations.

Tensions have risen in Armenia after a series of armed attacks on top government officials last month. The Siradeghian-led HHSh blamed the attacks on the Kocharian-led faction in the government. Defense Minister Sarkisian alleged that the violence was sponsored by the HHSh in an effort to oust Kocharian.