By Anna Saghabalian
A court in Yerevan opened hearings Wednesday on a lawsuit against the Armenian Foreign Ministry that was filed by four of its senior employees fired for publicly condemning the government’s conduct of last February’s presidential election.
The plaintiffs want the Administrative Court to declare their dismissal illegal and have them reinstated in their jobs.
They were among six Foreign Ministry who signed a joint statement on February 24 expressing “outrage” at serious fraud which they said prevented the February 19 vote 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. They voiced their solidarity with supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian protesting against the official vote results.
All ten diplomats were swiftly relieved of their duties, with then Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accusing them of breaching an Armenian law that bars diplomats from engaging in political activities. The fired diplomats insist, however, that their criticism of the alleged vote rigging did not amount to political or partisan activity.
“We insist that we took a civic stance,” Vladimir Karapetian, a former Foreign Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL in the court. “The main point of our statement was that the parties should avoid resorting to violence. We urged everyone to act within the bounds of law.”
The three other plaintiffs are 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.
The Foreign Ministry had no comment on Wednesday. A spokesman said that ministry lawyers will present detailed arguments during the next court hearings.
(Photolur photo: The Foreign Ministry building in Yerevan.)