By Ruzanna Stepanian
A court in Yerevan refused on Thursday to declare illegal the controversial dismissal of former Foreign Ministry officials who publicly condemned the Armenian government’s conduct of the recent presidential election.
The four ex-officials had asked the Administrative Court to reinstate them in their positions, saying that they did not violate Armenia’s law on diplomatic service that bans diplomats from engaging in political activities.
The plaintiffs were among six Foreign Ministry employees 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, insisted during court hearings that they did not voice support for opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who rejected official vote results as fraudulent. They argued that their statement did not mention Ter-Petrosian or any political force.
The court dismissed these arguments, however. “The Court believes that the statement circulated by the plaintiffs amounts to political activity because it is directed at issues relating to political processes. Namely, making political evaluations of electoral and post-electoral processes,” the presiding judge, Hovsep Bedevian, said, reading out the verdict.
Bedevian said that in issuing their statement Karapetian and his colleagues acted “not as ordinary citizens.” “The plaintiffs were relieved of their duties not for having political opinions but for disseminating those political opinions by exploiting their positions, something which is forbidden by law,” he said.
Karapetian claimed that their lawsuit was rejected under pressure from the government and the Foreign Ministry in particular. “I believe that the verdict is not fair,” he told RFE/RL. He said he is likely to appeal.
Commenting on the sackings in late February, then Foreign Minister Vartan 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 Armenian president’s nephew.