RFE/RL Armenian Report – 05/28/2019

                                Tuesday 

Armenian Judges Demand Say On Court Reform

        • Naira Bulghadarian

Armenia - Yervand Khundkarian (second from left), chairman of the Court of 
Cassation, and other judges meet with the press, Yerevan, .

Armenian judges have voiced support for a thorough reform of the national 
judicial system, while saying that the authorities must consult with them and 
“strictly” adhere to Armenia’s laws and international commitments.

In a statement issued on Monday night, they also deplored attempts to disrupt 
“the normal work of courts” and lambasted a state body overseeing the Armenian 
judiciary.

The statement was adopted at an emergency “general assembly” in Yerevan 
attended by 163 of the country’s 229 judges. They discussed recent days’ 
dramatic developments that followed the Armenian government’s strong criticism 
of the judiciary.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian urged supporters to block the entrances to all 
court buildings after a Yerevan district court ordered his bitter foe and 
former President Robert Kocharian released from custody on May 18. Pashinian 
demanded a mandatory “vetting” of all judges on May 20, saying that many of 
them remain linked to Armenia’s “corrupt” former leaders and cannot be 
independent. He reaffirmed his plans for a far-reaching judicial reform at a 
May 24 meeting with foreign diplomats.

The judges acknowledged the need for a major court reform. They said none of 
them objects to public access to information about their incomes and assets, 
which is expected to be one of the criteria in the planned vetting.

At the same time the judges urged “relevant bodies” to “stand above parochial 
interests” and ensure that the resulting legislative changes conform to 
Armenia’s constitution and international obligations.

“The General Assembly of Judges welcomes any measure to strengthen confidence 
in the judicial authority which would be taken in strict compliance with the 
law,” said their statement read out to reporters by Yervand Khundkarian, the 
chairman of Armenia’s Court of Cassation.


Armenia -- Supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian block the entrance to a 
district court building in Yerevan, May 20, 2019.

The statement stressed that a “constructive dialogue of all branches of 
government” is essential for the success of the planned reform. In that 
context, it described judges’ involvement in reform-related discussions as 
“mandatory.”

The statement went on to condemn the “inactivity” of the Supreme Judicial 
Council (SJC), a body nominating new judges and monitoring courts. “In effect, 
that body does not guarantee the independence of judges,” it declared.

It was not clear whether the judges are unhappy with the SJC’s cautious 
reaction to the May 20 court blockade. In an apparent reference to the 
blockade, they denounced actions “hampering the normal work of courts.”

The SJC chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, resigned on May 24. In a letter to other 
members of the judicial watchdog, Harutiunian cited his concerns over “ongoing 
developments relating to the judicial authority.”

The resignation was announced the day after the European Union expressed 
readiness to help the Armenian authorities reform the domestic judiciary with 
“technical and financial assistance.”



Incoming CSTO Head Visits Armenia


Armenia -- Stanislav Zas (R), secretary of Belarus's Security Council, meets 
with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Yerevan, .

A senior Belarusian official met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Yerevan 
on Tuesday one week after Armenia dropped its objections to his appointment as 
secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization 
(CSTO).

The CSTO’s previous, Armenian secretary general, Yuri Khachaturov, was sacked 
in November after being charged by Armenian authorities over a 2008 crackdown 
on opposition protesters in Yerevan. Khachaturov’s three-year tenure was due to 
end in 2020.

Pashinian’s government demanded late last year that another Armenian official 
be named to run the organization until that time. The demand was rejected by 
other CSTO member states and Belarus in particular.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko nominated the secretary of his 
Security Council, Stanislav Zas, for the vacant post. Zas’s candidacy was 
backed by Russia and all other members of the defense alliance except Armenia.

Meeting in Bishkek on May 23, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian and 
his counterparts from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 
agreed that Zas will take over as CSTO secretary general on January 1, 2020. 
The appointment will almost certainly be formalized at a CSTO summit due in 
November.

Pashinian expressed his satisfaction with the agreement when he met with Zas. 
“The CSTO is one of the most important elements of Armenia’s security system, 
and Armenia is interested in the effective work of that organization,” he said.

The Belarusian official also met with Mnatsakanian on Monday. According to the 
Armenian Foreign Ministry, he assured Mnatsakanian he “will consistently act 
from the position of protecting security interests of all CSTO member states.”


Kazakhstan - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) and Armenian Prime 
Minister Nikol Pashinian talk at a CSTO summit in Astana, 8 November 2018.
The dispute over who should run the CSTO seriously strained Armenia’s relations 
with Belarus. In November, Pashinian condemned Lukashenko for publicly 
questioning Yerevan’s role in the CSTO while meeting with a senior diplomat 
from Azerbaijan.

Lukashenko claimed afterwards to have apologized to Pashinian. Still, he 
insisted that Yerevan should agree to the appointment of a Belarusian secretary 
general.

“The problem was created by [Pashinian,] not us,” the Belarusian strongman 
said, adding that the Armenian prime minister should have consulted with fellow 
CSTO leaders before bringing criminal charges against Khachaturov for 
“political reasons.”




Press Review


“Haykakan Zhamanak” rejects allegations by “opposition propaganda outlets” that 
the authorities are deliberately spreading tensions between people in Armenia 
and Nagorno-Karabakh. “In this information tumult, ordinary citizens in Armenia 
and Artsakh cannot understand what is going on in reality,” writes the 
pro-government paper. It accuses former President Robert Kocharian of 
“exploiting the Armenians-versus-Karabakhis theme.” “After all, Kocharian has 
achieved everything his life by exploiting the Karabakh issue,” it says.

“Aravot” carries a photograph of expensive cars belonging to Armenian judges 
which were parked outside a court building in Yerevan where they met on Monday. 
The paper says judges attending the gathering insisted that they are ready to 
undergo a vetting process involving a scrutiny of their assets because “they 
have nothing to hide.”

Arman Grigorian, a U.S.-based Armenian political scientist, tells “Zhamanak” 
that Armenia’s former ruling regime retains strong influence on the judicial 
system as evidenced by a Yerevan court’s controversial decision to release 
Kocharian from custody and suspend his trial. “This branch of government has 
clearly taken on the role of an instrument for the restoration of the former 
regime,” he says. “What happened is a conspiracy against the democratic 
revolution in Armenia. This could plunge Armenia into a serious constitutional 
and political crisis.” Grigorian also condemns Karabakh President Bako Sahakian 
and his predecessor Arkadi Ghukasian for signing formal “guarantees” that led 
to Kocharian’s release.

(Sargis Harutyunyan)


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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