Lilit Makunts, who leads the ruling My Step bloc’s group in the Armenian parliament, did not deny media reports about her impending appointment when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Sunday.
“There is such an issue on the agenda but it is still under discussion,” she said.
Makunts, 37, taught English at Russian-Armenian University in Yerevan and did not engage in political activities before being appointed as Armenia’s culture minister in the wake of the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018 that brought Pashinian to power. She held that post until being elected to the parliament on My Step’s ticket in December 2018.
The current Armenian ambassador in Washington, Varuzhan Nersesyan, is a career diplomat who was handpicked for the post by Pashinian. Nersesyan handed his credentials to then President Donald Trump in January 2019.
It is not clear why Pashinian may have decided to replace Nersesyan. The prime minister’s office did not comment on Monday on the reports about Makunts’s appointment.
Pashinian’s apparent choice of the new ambassador was strongly criticized by senior lawmakers from the two opposition parties represented in the parliament.
“I think he is simply trying to get his people out of the country. I mean his key loyalists who would definitely be prosecuted [after regime change in Armenia,]” claimed Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
Zohrabian dismissed Makunts as “a woman who only speaks good English.” “Let’s hold a contest for the best English speaker and appoint the winner as ambassador to the U.S.,” she suggested tartly.
“She is not a diplomat. I don’t know what she will be doing there [in Washington,]” said Gevorg Gorgisian of the Bright Armenia Party.
“This is a continuation of the bad old traditions,” Gorgisian complained, referring to politically motivated ambassadorial appointments made by Armenia’s former leaders.
Pashinian’s reported decision appears to have also prompted criticism from one of the two main Armenian-American lobby groups.
“With the stakes so high and the need for serious, seasoned professionals so very clear, we cannot afford on-the-job-training, political sinecures, or anything other than our very best in high level diplomatic postings,” Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, wrote on Facebook.
In her interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Makunts downplayed her lack of diplomatic experience and argued that “political appointments” of ambassadors is common practice around the world.
“Experience is certainly very important, but in some cases it does not play a central role,” she said.