Obituary: Telman Ter-Petrossian

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The Independent Online
Telman Ter-Petrossian, the brother of the Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrossian, was powerful not just because of his family connection. A leading industrialist, he reputedly controlled a third of Armenia's economy, the other part being divided between the defence minister Vazgen Sarkissian and the former interior minister Vano Siradegian.

Ter-Petrossian was born in Aleppo in 1937, the eldest of three sons of Hakop Ter- Petrossian, a founder and member of the Politburo of the Syrian Communist Party. Hakop was one of about 100,000 Armenians in the Middle East who followed Stalin's post-war "repatriation" drive, aimed at making Soviet Armenia the national homeland. Hakop brought his family to the Soviet Union in 1946 and, unlike many of the other Middle Eastern Armenians who took up Stalin's offer, did not seem to regret his decision.

While his younger brother Levon followed an academic career as a philologist and even briefly came up against the KGB as a student in the 1960s, Telman Ter-Petrossian was a loyal servant of the Soviet system, joining the Communist Party and climbing the ranks of industry. After school in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, he studied mechanical engineering at a technical school and at Yerevan Polytechnic Institute, before beginning work in 1958 as an engineer. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked for a number of enterprises, including Hrazdanmash, a huge machine-building plant largely supplying the defence industry, and the Sevan scientific factory. By 1990 he had risen to head Hrazdanmash.

As Armenia regained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and as his younger brother Levon became prominent, first as chairman of parliament and later as Armenia's first directly elected president, Telman initially stuck to business. As the Communist economic system was broken up, Hrazdanmash was turned into a joint-stock company making Russian weapons under licence.

Telman Ter-Petrossian's first direct venture into politics was the formation of the Union of Armenian Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a lobbying group for businessmen in which he continued to play a leading role. It was not until July 1995 that he stood for parliament, and was elected for the town of Hrazdan not far from Yerevan. However, he remained outside the Armenian National Movement, the party of the president that also dominates parliament. He was elected on a non-party ticket and once a deputy he became involved in setting up the reform bloc of MPs. He was a member of the parliamentary committee on defence, national security and internal affairs.

Behind the scenes, though, he was influential not just in Armenia's economic life but in other areas of policy. He developed trade with Armenia's southern neighbour Iran and was a strong advocate of closer business ties with Turkey, a controversial subject while memories of the Ottoman massacres of Armenians in the early years of the century remained strong. He forged close ties in Turkey's business community and had visited the country not long before his death.

Felix Corley

Telman Ter-Petrossian, industrialist and politician: born Aleppo, Syria 11 August 1937; MP for Hrazdan, Armenia 1995-97; married; died Yerevan, Armenia 20 May 1997.