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By Shakeh Avoyan

Hovannes Yeritsian, the controversial head of the Armenian government’s civil aviation department, was dismissed and replaced by one of his former deputies on Friday.

A government statement gave no reasons for the decision taken by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian following growing criticism of the state of affairs in the Armenian civil aviation.

Yeritsian, who held the post for two years, claimed that he himself asked the government to relieve him of his duties. “It’s been two years since I took up this job,” he told RFE/RL. “I am now tired and physically unable to carry on. I need to take rest.”

However, a senior government source indicated that Yeritsian was not sacked at his own request. The source said the decision to replace him was motivated by the need to reform the sector gripped by serious financial problems. She added that the reform became even more urgent after the recent transfer of Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport under the 30-year control of an Argentine company.

It was not clear whether Yeritsian was in conflict with the airport’s new administration.

Many Armenian media, in particular, have blamed Yeritsian for the worsening financial position of Armenian Airlines. The ailing state-run carrier, which is mired in debts, has recently been forced to cancel some of its most lucrative flights to Western Europe after failing to procure modern aircraft meeting the European Union’s safety and noise regulations.

Yeritsian, however, defended his two-year track record, saying that it was a success.

The former aviation chief’s relations with the independent press worsened further earlier this year after he asked state prosecutors to launch criminal proceedings against the editor of the popular “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, Nikol Pashinian, for alleged slander. Facing a wave of protests from local journalists and politicians, the prosecutors eventually dropped the case.

The accusations leveled against Pashinian stemmed from an allegedly offensive caption under a front-page photograph of Yeritsian in a November 2001 issue of the outspoken newspaper. "Degenerate officials recruited for the civil service," the caption read.

Yeritsian’s successor is Samvel Markarian (no relation to the prime minister), a 48-year-old former civilian pilot who was the deputy head of the aviation department from 1998-2001. Markarian was sacked by Yeritsian last year.
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