By Astghik Bedevian
Four Armenian diplomats who were fired after publicly describing last month’s presidential election as fraudulent filed a lawsuit against the Foreign Ministry on Monday, saying that their sacking was illegal and must be overturned.
They were among six Foreign Ministry officials who expressed their “outrage” at serious fraud which they said prevented the February 19 vote from being “civilized, free and fair.” “Only by acting in conformity with the letter and spirit of the law can we create democracy and tolerance in Armenia and earn the country a good reputation abroad,” they said in a joint statement on February 24.
A similar statement was also issued by Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Bayburtian, Armenia’s ambassadors to Italy and Kazakhstan as well as an envoy at the Armenian embassy in Ukraine. They stressed the need for Armenia to have a democratically elected president and expressed their solidarity with Armenians protesting against the official vote results.
All ten diplomats were swiftly relieved of their duties, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accusing them of breaching an Armenian law that bars diplomats from engaging in political activities. Oskanian also downplayed the unprecedented gesture of defiance, saying that most of the dissenters have long maintained close ties with opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and his associates.
The four plaintiffs are the former Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian, Martha Ayvazian, the former head of the ministry’s NATO desk, Karine Afrikian, the former head of the U.S. and Canada desk, and Arakel Semirjian, a counselor at the Europe desk. Semirjian is also a nephew of Ter-Petrosian. He was detained and spent several hours in police custody last Friday for his participation in the post-election rallies held by the former Armenian president.
The fired diplomats asked Armenia’s Administrative Court to have them reinstated, saying that their criticism of the government’s handling of the disputed election did not amount to political or partisan activity. According to their lawyer, Levon Baghdasarian, they will also argue during the upcoming court hearings that their sacking by Oskanian violated some provisions of Armenia’s Labor Code.
“Any former diplomat has the right to appeal against a decision of their former boss,” Tigran Balayan, the Foreign Ministry’s current acting spokesman, told RFE/RL, commenting on the lawsuit.
Balayan insisted that Oskanian’s decision was legal and justified. “The dismissing order was signed after consultations with lawyers,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Vladimir Karapetian.)