By Anna Saghabalian
Former Foreign Ministry officials controversially dismissed recently insisted on Wednesday that their public condemnation of the Armenian government’s handling of the February 19 presidential election was not a show of support for opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The four diplomats made the assurances in the Administrative Court in Yerevan as it considered their appeal against their dismissal by former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
Oskanian cited Armenia’s law on diplomatic service that bans Foreign Ministry officials from using their position to help any politician or party or to engage in other political activities. The plaintiffs were among six Foreign Ministry officials who signed a joint statement on February 24 expressing “outrage” at serious fraud which they said prevented the election from being “civilized, free and fair.” 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. All ten diplomats were swiftly relieved of their duties for breaching the law in question.
The plaintiffs, among them the ministry’s former spokesman Vladimir Karapetian and the former heads of its NATO and North America desks, argue that unlike the ambassadors, they did not explicitly voice solidarity with Ter-Petrosian supporters demonstrating against the official vote results. Their lawyer, Levon Baghdasarian, told the court that their statement did not mention any political force.
Satenik Abgarian, head of the ministry’s legal affairs department, countered that the statement was read out at a Ter-Petrosian rally and portrayed by its organizers as an endorsement of the opposition campaign for regime change.
“We presented the statement to media,” responded Karapetian. “The question of who and how doesn’t concern us. We would have given our own explanation had there not been the illegal dismissal order.”
Announcing the sackings in late February, Oskanian downplayed the unprecedented gesture of defiance by his subordinates. He argued that most of the dissenters have long maintained close ties with Ter-Petrosian and his associates. One of the plaintiffs, Arakel Semirjian, is the former president’s nephew.
The court ruling on the case is expected to be announced on May 29.
(Photolur photo: Karapetian, left, and other plaintiffs hold a news conference on Monday.)