An Armenian customs officer resigned on Wednesday following what human rights activists described as an illegal sacking order issued by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
One of the activists, Zhanna Aleksanian also accused Pashinian of publicly humiliating the officer, Hayk Martirosian, during a visit to a customs terminal in Yerevan on Tuesday.
“When the prime minister approaches, you must stand at attention,” Pashinian told Martirosian as he inspected the facility processing imported cars. “Not like this,” he added, imitating what he saw as the officer’s relaxed posture.
Pashinian also berated Martirosian when he went into an adjacent office room and noticed an unwashed Armenian flag lying there. He then ordered senior officials from the State Revenue Service (SRC) to fire everyone working in that room, saying that they disrespected a state symbol.
Martirosian tendered his resignation the following day. The SRC claimed that he was not forced to quit.
The other customs officer working in that room reported for work on Wednesday. He declined to clarify whether he too will lose his job. “I’m not allowed to give you information without my superiors’ permission,” the officer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Aleksanian condemned the “ugly” and “disgraceful” incident at the customs terminal. “I cannot imagine the prime minister of any civilized country talking to citizens with such threats and in such a tone,” she said. “I do realize that [Pashinian’s] critical comments regarding the flag were justified.”
“I think it was quite humiliating for the customs officer. Besides, the prime minister has no right to fire him,” she said, citing Armenian labor legislation.
Another human rights campaigner, Artur Sakunts, also insisted on Tuesday that only the head of the SRC or at least its customs division is legally authorized to sack customs personnel.
Pashinian, meanwhile, defended his order and made clear that he will not withdraw it. “I say one thing only once,” he told reporters.
“If anyone thinks from the legal standpoint that the prime minister of Armenia cannot protect the Armenian flag then we have different ideas about the state,” added the prime minister.
Shortly after the incident Pashinian wrote on Facebook that he will not hesitate to “fire tens of thousands of people” if they too display “such an attitude towards the national flag.”