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Hovik Abrahamyan Should Not be Underestimated: His Premiership was Predicted in 2009

“[Hovik] Abrahamyan typifies the type of Republican politician that makes up a large chunk of the parliament and of the ruling party establishment: politico-oligarchs who use political power to advance their business interests and vice versa," wrote then–US Ambassador to Armenia Marie L. Yovanovitch in a confidential US cable dated October 29, 2008, made public by WikiLeaks in 2011. In light of parliamentary speaker Hovik Abrahamyan's appointment to the position of prime minister on Sunday at a meeting of the governing body of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Epress.am compiled a few excerpts about Abrahamyan from leaked US diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks. 

In the same cable, Yovanovitch writes: "Such figures brought [Armenian President Serzh] Sargsyan to power, but also could become a potential threat to Sargsyan’s rule if he moves overtly against their interests. Over time, Abrahamyan’s political fate may be a bellwether of reform prospects during President Sargsyan’s Administration." 

The US ambassador had met Abrahamyan on October 9, 2008, during which time the then new parliamentary speaker, according to the ambassador, “blasted” the opposition (i.e. the Armenian National Congress) for “blackening” the image of Armenia, adding that it would be better if the US Embassy stopped providing the opposition with support: "The Speaker said such support was ‘harming our country,’ and that the opposition would be better off devoting itself to preparing for the next parliamentary elections in three years’ time." Commenting on this statement, Yovanovitch writes: "In fact, we provide no support to the opposition of any kind, although our frequent advocacy of political freedoms and human rights can be misunderstood by the likes of Abrahamyan as pro-LTP [Levon Ter-Petrossian].” During the conversation, Abrahamyan said that the HHK is ready to listen to criticism by the opposition, and “the Ambassador will see in practice that ‘we [HHK] are inclined to a constructive approach,’ and that ‘we are democratic people’.”

In yet another cable, this one dated November 17, 2009, Ambassador Yovanovitch wrote about Armenia's  "two major political/economic pyramids: one headed by Serzh Sargsyan; the other, by former president Robert Kocharian." About Abrahamyan, the ambassador writes: "National Assembly chair Hovik Abrahamyan controls his own business empire which, though formerly part of the Kocharian pyramid, is now increasingly autonomous."

Then US Charge d’Affairs Joseph Pennington in a April 23, 2008 confidential cable assessing Armenia's new cabinet was cautious about the appointments of Armen Gevorgyan and Hovik Abrahamyan as RA Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Territorial Administration and presidential Chief of Staff, respectively, saying that Gevorgyan is “very clearly ex-president [Robert] Kocharian’s man,” while Abrahamyan’s “first loyalty is more evidently to his own interests” but he is believed to be more “Kocharian’s man” than current Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s.

Pennington concludes by saying that while Abrahamyan’s position is potentially quite influential, “our hunch is that Abrahamyan is being marginalized”: “It would not surprise us to see him pushed out completely in the next six months to a year. Abrahamyan has one of the most checkered reputations in the Armenian Government, for both corruption as well as for his role as chief operating officer of the dirtiest and most coercive tactics of Serzh Sargsyan’s presidential election campaign.”

Armenian businessman Mikhail Baghdasarov, with whom Pennington met on March 20, 2009, however, did not believe Abrahamyan would be "pushed out," and, in fact, felt his position would only grow stronger:

"In Bagdasarov's view, Tigran Sargsian's ineffectiveness as prime minister has accelerated the political rise of Hovik Abrahamian, the current Speaker of  the National Assembly. When Armenia's power players — oligarchs, politicians, ministers — have disagreements or want to get something done, he said, they now ignore the PM and come to Abrahamian […] While Bagdasarov would not be drawn out on his own views of Abrahamian, he warned that the Speaker ‘should not be underestimated.’  He claimed that through his effective deal-making, behind-the-scenes problem-solving, and image as an honest broker, Abrahamian had formed a virtual ‘shadow government’ within parliament, thereby marginalizing the PM and other ministers […] He predicted that Abrahamian would become Armenia’s next prime minister […] and, ultimately, the country's next President.

"Bagdasarov said he did not rule out the possibility that Abrahamian could find a way to push the current President aside and run for President himself in 2013," reads yet another cable

In a side comment, Pennington writes: "Abrahamian is regarded by outside observers — and many Armenians — as an unpolished, poorly educated and parochial figure, a crass nouveau riche whose brand of dirty-money politics, abuse of state 'administrative resources,' and cunning opportunism is in the worst tradition of recent Armenian politics. Nevertheless, we agree with Bagdasarov that he should not be underestimated."