Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian publicly ordered the sacking of several Armenian customs officers on Tuesday after accusing one of them of showing a lack of respect.
“When the prime minister approaches, you must stand at attention,” Pashinian told the officer while inspecting a customs terminal in Yerevan processing imported cars. “Not like this,” he said imitating what he saw as the officer’s relaxed posture.
Pashinian also berated the same officer when he went into an adjacent office room and saw an unwashed Armenian national flag.
“This is unacceptably dirty, terribly dirty facility,” he said after emerging the room. “This is an attitude towards people, towards our flag and coat-in-arms.”
“How many people work in that room?” he asked a more senior official running the terminal. “Everyone working in that room with such a flag must not work [for the customs service.]”
Another customs official, Hayk Martirosian, tried to justify the lack of tidiness there, saying that the officers only recently relocated into that office and received the flag from another agency.
Pashinian defended his extraordinary order in an ensuing Facebook post. “If I have to fire tens of thousands of people I will fire them,” he wrote. “But I will not tolerate such an attitude towards the national flag.”
Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist, insisted that Pashinian has no legal right to order such firings. “It is the head of the customs service, the head of the State Revenue Committee, who must first and foremost bears responsibility for those circumstances,” said Sakunts.