Aram Harutiunian, Armenia’s environment minister until last month, awarded himself a government medal just days before the formal appointment of his successor, it emerged on Monday.
The Environment Protection Ministry confirmed the veracity of a photocopy of a corresponding executive order posted on the Internet by several online media outlets. The document signed by Harutiunian says that the outgoing minister is awarded the ministry’s Gold Medal for his “significant contribution” to environment protection in Armenia.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), a ministry spokesman clarified that the medal was recommended by a ministry commission and that Harutiunian simply rubber-stamped that decision.
Environmentalists critical of the Armenian government were quick to condemn and ridicule the award. “Ever since he was appointed minister in 2007 or 2008 there has been no positive change in environment protection in Armenia,” one of them, Apres Zohrabian, said. “On the contrary, ecological problems left over from previous years have actually deepened.”
Zohrabian and dozens of other activists have been particularly vocal in campaigning against controversial mining projects sanctioned by the government. They have for years accused the Environment Ministry of turning a blind eye to air, land and water pollution resulting from mining.
Anna Shahnazarian, another activist, implicated Harutiunian in corrupt practices. She said that the Environment Protection Ministry has granted lucrative contracts to construction firms controlled by Harutiunian.
Shahnazarian was among two dozen ecologists who burst into the venue of an international conference on mining that was held in Yerevan last March. Harutiunian, who attended the opening session of the conference, threatened and insulted one of the angry protesters who told him to drink a glass of contaminated water.
Harutiunian, who is now the governor of Armenia’s central Kotayk province, issued an implicit apology on Saturday after being censured by the State Commission on the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials. In a written statement, the ex-minister said he overreacted to the “improper behavior of certain individuals.”