By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s recently appointed Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan on Thursday brushed aside media criticism of his controversial decisions to give high-level jobs to members of his Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) Party.
Hoveyan indicated that Orinats Yerkir, which is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and is a junior partner in the governing coalition, has the right to make partisan appointments within the area of responsibility of its three cabinet ministers. “Orinats Yerkir should not be blamed for having this portfolio,” he told reporters. “What partisanship are you talking about?”
Named almost a month ago, Hoveyan has already replaced the heads of a key Culture Ministry department and several cultural institutions, including the Armenian State Circus, with Orinats Yerkir cadres. The new circus director is an engineer by training.
Hoveyan, who was until recently better known as a poet, reluctantly agreed to comment on his own appointment. “I am a very humble person, I do not overestimate my capabilities,” he said. “I have come to do real work. I have come to help the government.
“The prime minister is my distant relative, a serious intellectual who quickly reacts to every issue. He is a kind, honest person who knows the value of culture.”
Hoveyan’s predecessor, Tamara Poghosian, was also affiliated with Orinats Yerkir and served as culture minister for less than a year. Poghosian’s flamboyant and cocky statements made her an object of media ridicule and jokes. This is widely believed to be the reason why Baghdasarian decided to give the post to a less controversial figure.
Hoveyan’s first actions and public statements suggest that he too will not be immune to media attacks that might prove damaging for Orinats Yerkir. His staffing policy has already been criticized by some Armenian newspapers.
The new minister met journalists after a weekly cabinet meeting that approved a draft law on exports and temporary transportation of artworks and other items with “cultural value” from Armenia. While setting more liberal rules and procedures, the bill contains a list of artifacts, including ancient relics and treasures of the Armenian Apostolic Church, that can not be taken abroad under any circumstances.
“We must in no way allow their export,” Hoveyan said. “If, God forbid, the plane [carrying them] crashes those items will be lost forever.”