Daily Newspaper Staff Threatens to Strike

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The Respublika Armenia daily staff is continuing to oppose the decision made by Parliament Speaker Khosrov Harutunian to appoint Shamiram Aghabekian–a member of the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party of Armenia–as the new editor-in-chief. The daily staff–which co-founded the newspaper in cooperation with the National Assembly–wants Ashot Gazazian–who has been acting editor-in-chief for the past several months–to be the new editor-in-chief.

During a press conference held at the Respublika Armenia Editorial Office this week–deputy editor-in-chief Ashot Gazazian told those present that the daily staff had urged President Robert Kocharian and human rights commission chairman Paruyr Hairikian to support them in this issue. Other staff members vowed to continue their struggle–using all possible means and even suspending the publication of the newspaper and applying to court instances–if necessary.

Aram Mkrtchian–the head of the parliamentary standing commission on education–science–youth and sports affairs–said at the conference that if the newspaper is being run by the state–it implies a certain political orientation. However–he said–the status of the newspaper should be clarified and the necessity of an official newspaper should be discussed in Parliament.

Newly appointed editor-in-chief Shamiram Aghabekian joined the meeting later. Answering her colleagues’ questions–she called the resignation of former editor-in-chief Armen Khanbabian as a prudent political step–saying that the whole editorial board should have followed suit. Aghabekian said that the whole editorial board and not the editor-in-chief alone had been determining the policy of the newspaper–which was–in particular–aimed against the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. She said it remained a puzzle for her how the same editorial board would be able to work with the ARF now.

Aghabekian said that the newspaper was to have submitted its working program to the National Assembly four months ago–but failed to do so; meanwhile she does have such a program and has submitted it to the National Assembly. She said that the first thing she would do as a new editor-in-chief is to specify the status of the newspaper–since the problem is in that and not in persons.

"My desire to become the editor has nothing to do with my personal ambitions," said Aghabekian–adding that as a Ramkavar-Azatakan member she ought to abide by her party commitmen’s. The party which supported the current administration during the presidential election will continue its support–she said. Aghabekian denied all allegations that her party membership would be an obstacle for her work as editor-in-chief–saying that her party is after all liberal.

The daily staff urged the National Assembly to postpone the discussion of all issues related to personnel changes until the status of the newspaper is specified–warning to suspend the publication of the newspaper otherwise.

In support of the staff–the Yerevan Press Club and the Mass Media Association issued a statement Thursday expressing their deep concern over the situation that had risen following Aghabekian appointment. The staff didn’t participate in the publication of the last two issues.

The chairperson of the Journalists’ Union of Armenia–Astghik Gevorgian–stressed that the right of journalists had been defied and that the authors of the statement were mainly concerned over the juridical aspect of the issue. She stressed the importance of unity among journalists in this issue and called for support to their colleagues from the Respublika Armenia.

The journalists also made public a statement of similar character issued by the Yerevan State Chamber Theater as well as the appeal of a well-known painter–Valentin Podpomogov–addressed to Armenia’s intelligentsia to defend the right of journalists from the Respublika Armenia newspaper.

Speaker of the National Assembly Khosrov Harutunian told journalists that appointing a new editor-in-chief the daily newspaper was his right under the powers given to him by law and current regulations. He pointed out that under the current regulations of the official newspaper–the founder has an exclusive right either to appoint or dismiss the editor-in-chief–which had been done many times before.

The speaker said that his steps could be appealed in two cases: power abuse–or the designation of an unqualified editor-in-chief. Harutunian promised that in case of a trial–he would do his best to have an open and transparent trial.

Harutunian described the reactions as an emotional splash–which seems justifiable but is juridically unacceptable.

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