Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian on Tuesday ruled out through a spokesman the dismissal of two senior municipal officials which is demanded by youth activists holding non-stop demonstrations outside his office.
The officials in question are the head of the transport department in the municipal administration, Henrik Navasardian, and the director of a municipal bus operator, Misak Hambardzumian. The protesting activists want them to be sacked because of their response to nearly weeklong demonstrations that forced Markarian to freeze a sharp rise in transport fares last week. Navasardian also caused outrage by apparently swearing at a journalist who covered the protests.
“Any sacking of a local official must be substantiated,” Armen Gevorgian, the Yerevan municipality spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Just because some people have come up with some demands doesn’t mean that they must be fired.”
The protesters’ demands were also rejected by Astghik Gevorgian, a leader of the pro-government majority in Yerevan’s municipal assembly. She argued that Markarian suspended the bus fare hikes and offered representatives of the youth activists to join an ad hoc municipal commission tasked with proposing a reform of the city’s transport system.
The several dozen activists holding a round-the-clock sit-in outside the Mayor’s Office repeated, however, that they will boycott the commission until Navasardian and Hambardzumian are relieved of their duties. “I don’t think that sitting at the same table with those two individuals would be the right step because the presence of officials with such a value system makes us think that it won’t be possible to discuss any serious issue there,” one of them said.
Representatives of the two other political groups represented in the city’s Council of Elders have also been offered to join the commission. They both voiced on Tuesday serious misgivings about the ad hoc body, saying they fear that the authorities are intent on using it to legitimize a renewed tariff hike.
The opposition Barev Yerevan bloc sent written questions to Markarian’s office asking it to clarify the commission’s mission. “We will participate if the answers to our questions sent to the mayor give us hope that it will be a decision-making body,” Stepan Safarian, a Barev Yerevan leader, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“From our perspective, the commission can address only one issue: to improve the situation with public transport but not through higher tariffs,” Naira Zohrabian, a leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party, said for her part.