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Armenian Foreign Ministry Still In Limbo


Armenia - Outgoing Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian addresses Armenian Foreign Ministry staff, Yerevan, May 31, 2021.

High-ranking officials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry were conspicuously absent from a cabinet meeting and a parliament session on Thursday, raising more questions about their relationship with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian stepped down on May 27 following an emergency meeting of Armenia’s Security Council which discussed mounting tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Ayvazian was formally relieved of his duties on Monday hours after addressing the Foreign Ministry staff at a farewell meeting. He hinted that he decided to quit because of disagreeing with government decisions which he believes could put the country’s sovereignty and national security at risk. He did not go into details.

The ministry said on Thursday that the ministerial duties are currently performed by one of Ayvazian’s four deputies, Artak Apitonian.

Neither Apitonian nor any other Foreign Ministry official attended a weekly meeting of Pashinian’s cabinet.

Also, ministry officials initially did not take part in a parliamentary debate on the execution of Armenia’s 2020 state budget relating to the work of the national diplomatic service. Their absence forced the leadership of the National Assembly to twice postpone the session scheduled for Thursday morning.

The session went ahead only after the head of the Foreign Ministry’s financial department arrived in the parliament.

Mikael Melkumian, a deputy representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, wondered why the ministry did not send one of the deputy ministers instead. Ruben Rubinian, a senior pro-government deputy, replied that parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan has received a letter from the ministry saying that they are too busy to address lawmakers and answer their questions.

Taguhi Tovmasian, another opposition parliamentarian, claimed that all four vice-ministers have decided to step down. She said they do not want to bear responsibility for Pashinian’s “treasonous” efforts to resolve the border dispute with Azerbaijan.

At least one of the vice-ministers, Gagik Ghalachian, did tender his resignation on May 27. Ghalachian on Thursday declined to comment on his move, referring all inquiries to the Foreign Ministry’s press office.

In written comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the office said that Apitonian, Ghalachian and the two other vice-ministers are “continuing to perform their duties.” It did not explain why none of them attended the cabinet meeting or the parliament debate.

Speaking at the May 27 meeting of the Security Council, Pashinian called for the deployment of international observers along contested portions of the frontier where Armenian and Azerbaijani troops have been facing off against each other for the last three weeks.

Some opposition figures and other critics of Pashinian denounced the proposal, accusing him of failing to defend the country against foreign aggression and plotting to cede Armenian territory to Baku. The prime minister and his allies deny that.

Ayvazian’s remarks gave Pashinian’s detractors more ammunition. An Armenian government spokeswoman challenged the outgoing minister on Monday to publicly clarify “who, where and how was going to take some steps or to make decisions contradicting our country’s national and state interests.”

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