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New Armenian Ambassador To U.S. Appointed


Armenia -- Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of the ruling My Step bloc, speaks with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, February 3, 2020.

A senior member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party was appointed as Armenia’s new ambassador to the United States on Monday.

President Armen Sarkissian formalized the controversial appointment of Lilit Makunts with a decree initiated by Pashinian.

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 2018 “velvet revolution” that brought Pashinian to power.

She held that post until being elected to the Armenian parliament in December 2018 and becoming the nominal leader of the parliamentary group of Pashinian’s My Step bloc.

Makunts will replace Varuzhan Nersesyan, a career diplomat who handed his credentials to then President Donald Trump in January 2019. Nersesyan was appointed as Armenian ambassador to Britain last month.

Pashinian’s plans to replace Nersesyan with Makunts were first revealed by Armenian media outlets in January, prompting strong criticism from opposition lawmakers and other critics of his government. They pointed to her perceived lack of political and diplomatic experience.

“She is not a diplomat. I don’t know what she will be doing there [in Washington,]” said Gevorg Gorgisian of the opposition Bright Armenia Party.

One of the two main Armenian-American lobby groups also criticized at the time Pashinian’s choice of Armenia’s ambassador in Washington.

“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.

Pashinian has still not publicly commented on the ambassadorial appointment.

In a January 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.

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