Constantine Orbelian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Constantine Orbelian, an acclaimed Armenian-American conductor and pianist, has been reinstated as director of Armenia’s national opera theater after winning a court battle against the government.

Orbelian was appointed as artistic director of the Alexander Spendiarian National Opera and Ballet Theater in Yerevan in 2016 and became its director general as well a year later. He is widely credited with breathing a new life into one of the country’s most important cultural institutions chronically underfunded by successive post-Soviet governments.

In March 2019, then acting Culture Minister Nazeni Gharibyan dismissed Orbelian as chief executive, saying that he is not legally allowed to combine the two leadership positions. She also argued that the 63-year-old US citizen is not fluent in Armenian.

Orbelian rejected the decision as illegal and challenged it in court. Most actors and musicians of the state-run theater also condemned his dismissal, demanding that Gharibian be sacked instead.

Dozens of them rallied outside the main government building in Yerevan. Meeting with their representatives, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan defended the legality of Orbelian’s dismissal while pledging to address their concerns.

In October, a district court in the Armenian capital declared the controversial sacking null and void. Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld that ruling on Monday, February 10.

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Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Orbelian said the decision means that he can again perform the duties of director general. He cautioned, though, that his three-year contract signed with the former Armenian government expires in August and that he does not know yet whether the current authorities will extend it.

Orbelian was scheduled to meet with Ara Khzmalyan, a deputy minister of education, culture and sports, on Wednesday, February 12. He said he will discuss with Khzmalyan the possibility of renewed government funding for the theater.

The San Francisco-born musician complained that for the last two years the government has not financed performances staged by him in and outside Armenia. Also, he said, the roof and the ventilation system of the imposing theater building, one of Yerevan’s main landmarks, need urgent repairs.

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