By Hrach Melkumian
Foreign nationals serving as Armenia’s ambassadors abroad will be able to keep their jobs under a new Armenian law on diplomatic service.
The law which came into force on December 12 makes Armenian citizenship compulsory for all diplomats except the minister and deputy ministers of foreign affairs as well as the heads of diplomatic missions abroad. Holders of the top posts are not formally considered civil servants.
“Although it is desirable that they be citizens of Armenia, the law does not actually forbid them from being citizens of other countries,” the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Dziunik Aghajanian, told RFE/RL this week.
The new law regulating Armenian diplomatic service thus allows Yerevan’s envoys in Vienna and Strasbourg to keep their foreign passports. Both men are ethnic Armenians.
One of them, Jivan Tabibian, has worked as ambassador to Austria and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose main governing body is located in the Austrian capital. Tabibian is a US citizen. The other diplomat, Ambassador to the Council of Europe Christian Ter Stepanian, has a French nationality.
Two other key ambassadors based in Moscow and Paris are rumored to have two, Armenian and Russian, passports in violation of the Armenian constitution which bans dual citizenship. Unlike Tabibian and Ter Stepanian, they were born and grew up in Armenia.
Lacking qualified domestic cadres after decades of Soviet rule, successive governments in Yerevan have frequently appointed Diaspora professionals to senior diplomatic posts over the past decade. Armenia’s first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian, was a US national and only recently obtained Armenian citizenship. The current minister, Vartan Oskanian, surrendered his American passport after his appointment in 1998.
Some analysts say persons that are technically foreigners will find it much easier to join the Armenian diplomatic corps after the expected introduction of dual citizenship. But Aghajanian said the measure, if adopted, would have little impact on the foreign ministry.
“Given that 99 percent of our diplomatic corps are Armenian nationals, the issue is not quite urgent for us,” she explained.