Lilit Makunts (photo: Aram Arkun)

Lilit Makunts Named Armenia’s Ambassador to U.S.

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A senior but politically inexperienced member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s party was appointed as Armenia’s new ambassador to the United States on Monday, August 2.

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

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 Pashinyan 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 Pashinyan’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.

Pashinyan’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 lack of political and diplomatic experience.

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

One of the two main Armenian-American lobby groups also criticized at the time Pashinyan’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.

Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan

Similarly, the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) issued a statement against the appointment. Citing the difficult situation of Armenian post-war, the ADL letter to the foreign minister stated, “we firmly and forthrightly oppose the ill-advised appointment of Lilit Makunts, a divisive political figure who has no formal diplomatic experience, to replace Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan as Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States.”

“Experience is certainly very important, but in some cases it does not play a central role,” she said.

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