Armenia's political scene has seen a lot of activity in recent weeks in the wake of its parliamentary elections. An important development occurred on May 24, when Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Armenia's second largest party, withdrew from the ruling coalition of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian. This has led to speculation that this move is laying the groundwork for the political comeback of former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan. Armenia is a strategically located state with significance to numerous larger powers and will need to be watched closely in the coming months.
Armenia is located in the middle of the Caucasus region, a strategic but geopolitically volatile area. Situated between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the Caucasus countries of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan have been subject to power plays by all of these regional powers, as well as the United States. Given that Georgia is a firm ally of the U.S. and that Azerbaijan is also somewhat oriented towards the West, Armenia has been a crucial foothold in the region for Russia. Russia has a military base stationed in the country and backs Armenia both economically and politically.
It is in this context that the domestic political scene is important to watch in Armenia. Unlike Georgia and Azerbaijan, whose current leaders have both served for nearly 10 years, Armenia has during this time seen more frequent transfers of power, often under volatile circumstances. Current President Serzh Sarkisian came to power in 2008 in a contested election against former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. This drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets for 10 days and only ended after a police crackdown. Protests led by Ter-Petrosyan against Sarkisian's government have occurred frequently in Armenia over the past year or so, though these have been smaller, more stable and less threatening to Sarkisian's regime.
But while Ter-Petrosyan has not proven to be a formidable challenger to Sarkisian, another former president - Kocharyan - very well could. While Sarkisian was actually backed by Kocharyan in the 2008 elections, there are indications that this support may be running out. It is here where Tsarukian's withdrawal from Sarkisian's coalition is important. Tsarukian is a very influential figure in Armenian politics and business, and his party's support was crucial for Sarkisian. If his support will now be thrown behind Kocharyan as some reports suggest, this could change the political scene in the country significantly. This is especially important given that presidential elections are approaching in February 2013, and there is even talk within Armenia of these elections possibly being held earlier, before the end of the year.
Ultimately, no matter which of the presidents - or former presidents - come to power in Armenia, this is not likely to change the country's orientation towards Russia or threaten Moscow's strategic position in the country. However, the volatility associated with transfers of power in Armenia is bound to catch the eye of all the countries with interests in the Caucasus.