By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
The leader of Armenia’s small Jewish community condemned Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian on Wednesday for anti-Semitic remarks attributed to him by the local press.
Ayvazian was reported to have made offensive references to Jews in the context of his bitter dispute with the U.S. mining company Global Gold that has accused him of large-scale bribery.
“Do you know whom you defend?” Armenian newspapers quoted him as angrily telling journalists last week. “You defend Yids. Why don’t you go and find out who’s behind Global Gold. Instead of preventing them from violating our country’s laws, you want to defend them?”
Contacted by RFE/RL, Ayvazian did not deny saying this, but claimed at the same time that he did not mean to offend the Jews. “I had no anti-Semitic motives or intentions,” he said.
“What he said about the Jews is very offensive and has a lot of potential for getting that person in great trouble,” said Rimma Varzhapetian, the leader of an organization representing the several hundred Armenian Jews. “I don’t think he said it by chance. The remarks probably reflect his state of mind.”
The dispute between Ayvazian and Global Gold centers on the Environment Ministry’s controversial decision to revoke the Connecticut-based company’s license to carry out exploratory work at one of its Armenian gold mines on the grounds that it failed to honor its investment commitments. The company denies the accusations and insists that the ministry can not strip it of the license without a court ruling.
Global Gold executives have also implied that Ayvazian moved against the company after they refused to pay a $3 million bribe allegedly demanded by him. Ayvazian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian have dismissed the allegations that seem to have prompted serious concern from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan. Markarian confirmed earlier this month that embassy officials have raised those concerns with the Armenian government.
Global Gold, meanwhile, insisted in a statement that it has “continued to be the subject of corrupt and improper demands and threats” from Ayvazian. “The Company has reported this situation to the appropriate authorities in Armenia and in the United States,” it said. “Although the Minister has taken the position that the licenses have been terminated, governmental officials have assured the Company to the contrary and public records confirm the continuing validity of the licenses.”
Ayvazian claimed that despite his controversial comments, he has no problem with the ethnic or religious origin of Global Gold’s owners. “The law allows anyone to do business here, whether they are Armenians, Jews or Americans,” he said.
The company, which mines gold and other non-ferrous metals in Armenia, is run by Van Krikorian, a prominent member of the Armenian community in the United States. Krikorian is the former chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, an influential lobbying group.
Varzhapetian told RFE/RL that the Jewish community will not seek an official apology from Ayvazian or the government, suggesting that the embattled minister was awkwardly defending himself against the corruption allegations. “We think there are personal interests involved which in no way extend to the Armenian people and government,” she said. “So we don’t want to make a fuss about that.”
(Photolur photo: Vartan Ayvazian.)