Hrayr Tovmasian, who served as Armenia’s justice minister until last week, insisted on Monday that he was not sacked because of recent controversies involving him and the Ministry of Justice.
Tovmasian is one of several members of former Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet who were not reappointed to the new government formed by Hovik Abrahamian. He claimed that he himself asked President Serzh Sarkisian to relieve him of his duties.
“The reasons were quite numerous and different. Let me not talk about them at this point,” Tovmasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after Abrahamian introduced his successor, Hovannes Manukian, to the ministry staff. He said that his recent angry spat with opposition members of the Armenian parliament is not one of those reasons.
Tovmasian infuriated those lawmakers in March when he publicly derided a motion of censure against Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet that was proposed by the country’s four main opposition parties represented in the National Assembly. Armen Rustamian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, used offensive language to hit back at the minister on the parliament floor.
Tovmasian again found himself on the defensive shortly afterwards as law-enforcement authorities launched criminal proceedings against two Justice Ministry officials accused of beating up a man in their office. Both officials were sacked by him as a result.
Tovmasian insisted that this incident also had nothing to do with his replacement by Manukian. He was vague about his political future, saying that he has received a new government job offer. He refused to disclose it.
“We will use his knowledge and experience to the benefit of our state,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). But he too did not elaborate.
Manukian, the new justice minister, is a former judge who headed Armenia’s Court of Cassation from 2005-2008. He is thought to have played a decisive role in the unexpected acquittal in late 2006 of three soldiers accused of murder. A lower court had sentenced them to life imprisonment on what human rights groups denounced as trumped-up charges.
In what was widely construed as a demotion, Manukian was appointed as Armenia’s ambassador in Georgia in September 2008, shortly after praising tens of thousands of opposition supporters who took to the streets of Yerevan in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. “People demonstrated that they can rise up and fight for their cause,” said in a newspaper interview at the time.
Vartan Harutiunian, a pro-opposition human rights campaigner, praised Manukian’s past statements. “But this doesn’t mean that the new justice minister will carry on with his independent behavior,” he said.