By Anna Saghabalian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian downplayed on Monday the unprecedented decision by ten of his senior diplomats to condemn the Armenian government’s handling of the presidential election and effectively side with former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Oskanian claimed that they did so because of having close ties with Armenia’s former leadership and said there will be no more such acts of defiance by his subordinates.
“Their political views were known to us right from the beginning,” he said. “They are either related to former senior officials or themselves held positions under the former authorities.”
In a joint statement issued on Saturday, Oskanian’s deputy Armen Bayburtian and Armenia’s ambassadors to Italy and Kazakhstan as well as an envoy in the Armenian embassy in Ukraine expressed their solidarity with tens of thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters protesting against the official vote results in Yerevan. Bayburtian and the two ambassadors were promptly dismissed and stripped of their ambassadorial ranks by President Robert Kocharian. That did not keep six other employees of the Foreign Ministry, including ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian, from issuing a similar statement on Sunday.
Oskanian, who himself had joined the Foreign Ministry and worked his way up the diplomatic hierarchy during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, said they too have been fired for violating an Armenian law that bars diplomats from engaging in political activities. “I signed those decrees with pain, but I had to do that,” he told a news conference. “How can an ambassador representing and appointed by the president join a political movement which calls this state a kleptocracy headed by the president of the republic?” he said.
The allegation was the central theme of Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign. He personally attacked Oskanian as well, portraying the latter as a flip-flopper who had vigorously defended a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before siding with hard-line ministers who forced Ter-Petrosian to resign in February 1998. Ter-Petrosian on Sunday called the dissenting diplomats “heroes” and urged Oskanian to “repent his sins” in the same fashion.
The diplomats’ “civic stance” was also praised on Monday by Raffi Hovannisian, a former foreign minister and opposition leader who endorsed Ter-Petrosian’s presidential candidacy. “This is the kind of diplomats and citizens Armenia needs,” he told RFE/RL.
In a separate conversation with journalists on Monday, Oskanian said he is confident that there will be no more defections from his staff. “I will not even try to find out if there are such people [sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian,]” he said. “We won’t change our principles. Those who have not joined the [opposition] movement will continue to work. There will be no witch hunt.”