Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian rejected on Monday human rights activists’ and opposition leaders’ criticism of his angry behavior and sacking orders issued during a visit to a customs facility in Yerevan.
Pashinian berated a customs officer, Hayk Martirosian, for not standing at attention when he began inspecting the facility on April 9. He then entered an office and noticed an apparently dirty Armenian flag there before ordering everyone working in the room to be fired.
Human rights activists condemned Pashinian’s behavior, saying that he is not legally allowed to order such sackings. They also decried Martirosian’s humiliation in front of TV cameras.
Martirosian and the chief of the customs terminal resigned from their jobs following the incident. The State Revenue Committee (SRC), which comprises the Armenian customs service, denied forcing them to quit. The SRC chief, Davit Ananian, also claimed that Pashinian “urged,” rather than ordered, their dismissal.
Opposition politicians added their voice to the criticism. One of them compared Pashinian’s behavior to Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s periodical public outbursts, while another published an open letter earlier on Monday accusing the prime minister of violating labor rights.
Pashinian scoffed at the letter. “If things continue like this, the next letter will be about us violating Serzh Sarkisian’s labor rights,” he said, referring to Armenia’s former leader overthrown in last year’s “velvet revolution.”
Pashinian said that Martirosian’s failure to stand at attention in his presence highlighted customs officers’ lack of respect for many citizens dealing with the customs service. “Why do you think we are getting hundreds of letters complaining about customs bodies?” he told reporters.
“He could have avoid writing the [resignation] letter,” Pashinian said of Martirosian. “What should I do? My position is that such people must not be [in the customs service.]”
“I think that no action aimed at enhancing [state bodies’ proper] attitude towards the national flag has been as effective as that incident,” he added.