The director of Armenia’s National Opera and Ballet Theater resigned on Tuesday one week after its artists and musicians went on strike in protest against a controversial pension reform implemented by the government.
Kamo Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he tendered his resignation to the Ministry of Culture at his own initiative. He said he decided to quit because of having reached retirement age.
The unprecedented strike resulted in the cancellation of an opera performance that had been scheduled for February 10. Staff at the state-run theater affected by the reform protested against its continuing enforcement by the government despite a Constitutional Court order issued late last month.
The court suspended the unpopular measure pending hearings on an appeal against its constitutionality that was lodged by Armenia’s four main opposition parties. Nevertheless, tax authorities and many employers withheld additional social security contributions from workers’ January wages.
The Armenian government scrambled to end the opera strike. Deputy Culture Minister Artur Poghosian reportedly promised 20 percent pay rises to the disgruntled artists on February 11. They have not protested since then.
The strike was followed by separate demonstrations staged by employees of the national railway and electricity utility and Yerevan’s underground metro system. Three metro workers were subsequently fired by the management.
More than 100 employees of the nuclear power plant at Metsamor likewise condemned the reform enforcement as they rallied outside the office of Armenia’s human rights defender, Karen Andreasian, on Tuesday. A petition signed by them and handed to an Andreasian aide urged the ombudsman to help stop the wage deductions.
“I don’t want to have 30,000 drams ($75) deducted from my salary,” one protester told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We expect not just statements but meaningful assistance from Mr. Andreasian.”
“The nuclear plant staff, at least its young members, stands firm. We will not allow them to treat us like that,” one of the organizers of the rally said through a megaphone.
The nuclear plant workers already demonstrated in Metsamor, a small town 35 kilometers west of Yerevan, early this month. They made clear on Tuesday that they will not go on strike despite planning more street protests. As one of them put it, “Regardless of everything, the atomic station will operate, and it will operate safely.”