RFE/RL Armenian Report – 06/29/2020

                                        Monday, 

Opposition Party Demands Pashinian’s Interrogation

        • Ruzanna Stepanian

Armenia -- Prosperous Armenia Party's Naira Zohrabian speaks during a parliament 
session, February 11, 2020.

A senior member of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Monday 
challenged Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to substantiate his allegations that 
it has illegally bought votes in various national and local elections.

Naira Zohrabian said that law-enforcement authorities must summon Pashinian for 
questioning in connection with the allegations.

The National Security Service (NSS) indicted BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian 
immediately after the Armenian parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution 
on June 16. The NSS claims that the wealthy businessman “created and led an 
organized group” that bought more than 17,000 votes for the BHK during 
parliamentary elections held in 2017.

Tsarukian and his political allies reject the accusations as politically 
motivated. They say that Pashinian ordered the criminal proceedings in response 
to the BHK leader’s recent calls for the Armenian government’s resignation.

Pashinian again denied that when he spoke in the parliament controlled by his My 
Step bloc on June 25. “Is the fact that Prosperous Armenia has earned votes with 
bribes a revelation?” he said. “Is that a revelation for anyone?”

“I think that our law-enforcement system must also summon the prime minister and 
tell him to substantiate his information with facts,” countered Zohrabian. “We 
expect facts. If I had made such a statement they would have definitely summoned 
me the next day.”

“If I had said, for example, that we have information that various oligarchs, 
who used to work for the former authorities, very actively worked for one or 
another candidate of My Step in the 2018 parliamentary elections I would have 
been immediately summoned for questioning and told to come up with facts,” she 
said.

Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian, dismissed Zohrabian’s demand. “Yes, the 
prime minister said such a thing and he is not renouncing that statement,” she 
told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “As for who should be interrogated, that is 
decided by the relevant [investigating] body.”

In that regard, Gevorgian noted that a former Tsarukian associate, Abraham 
Manukian, was arrested late last week as part of the same inquiry.

Zohrabian claimed that Manukian’s arrest is aimed at “extracting testimony” 
against Tsarukian. A spokesman for Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian denied that.

On June 21, a Yerevan court refused to allow the NSS to arrest Tsarukian pending 
investigation. Prosecutors appealed against the ruling.

Tsarukian’s party controls 25 seats in Armenia’s 132-member National Assembly, 
making it the country’s leading parliamentary opposition force.




Parliament Majority Drafts More Amendments On Constitutional Court

        • Artak Khulian
        • Harry Tamrazian

Armenia -- The main meeting room of the Constitutional Court, Yerevan, September 
3, 2019.

The National Assembly will debate and almost certainly pass on Tuesday further 
legal amendments designed to complete the controversial dismissal of three of 
the nine members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.

The parliament already approved on June 22 amendments to the Armenian 
constitution calling for their replacement by other judges to be appointed by 
its pro-government majority. The constitutional changes rejected by the 
opposition bar current and future Constitutional Court judges from serving more 
than 12 years.

The 12-year term limit was already included in the constitution when it was 
previously amended in April 2018. But it did not apply to the judges already 
serving. A clause in the amended constitution allowed these judges to retain 
their positions until reaching retirement age.

The latest amendments scrapped the clause, requiring the gradual resignation of 
seven members of the high court installed before April 2018. Three of them -- 
Alvina Gyulumian, Felix Tokhian and Hrant Nazarian -- are to resign with 
immediate effect. The amendments also stipulate that Hrayr Tovmasian must quit 
as court chairman but remain a judge.

Tovmasian and the three judges refused to step down, however. In a joint 
statement issued on Thursday, they argued that the authorities have not made 
similar changes to a separate law on the Constitutional Court which also exempts 
them from the 12-year term limit. Justice Minister Rustam Badasian dismissed 
their objections, saying that the constitution takes precedence over the law 
cited by them.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step was quick to draft 
relevant changes to the law in question. A senior My Step deputy, Vahagn 
Hovakimian, announced on Monday that they will be debated at an emergency 
session of the parliament scheduled for Tuesday. With Pashinian’s bloc 
controlling at least 88 of the 132 parliament seats, their swift passage is all 
but a forgone conclusion.

The chief of the Constitutional Court staff, Edgar Ghazarian insisted on 
Saturday that Tovmasian and the three other judges technically continue to 
perform their duties.

Tovmasian formally went on vacation late on Thursday, just hours before the 
constitutional changes came into force. Gyulumian said that she will temporarily 
head the court in his absence.

Pashinian and parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan countered, however, that the 
court’s acting chairman is Ashot Khachatrian, the oldest of the six other 
judges. Mirzoyan made a point of meeting with Khachatrian on Saturday.


Armenia - Constitutional Court Judge Alvina Gyulumian is interviewed by RFE/RL, 
Yerevan, November 15, 2019.

In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Gyulumian maintained that 
she remains a high court justice. She further stood by her claims that the 
12-year term limit does not apply to her also because she most recently took the 
bench in 2014.

Gyulumian, 64, had also served as a Constitutional Court judge from 1996-2003. 
She says that those years cannot be added to the length of her current tenure.

Gyulumian again warned that she will challenge the legality of her ouster in the 
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). She was a member of the Strasbourg-based 
court from 2003-2014.

Tovmasian, Gyulumian and five other judges have been under strong government 
pressure to step down over the past year. Pashinian has accused them of 
maintaining close ties to the country’s former government and impeding his 
judicial reforms.

Tovmasian and opposition figures have dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn 
accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the Constitutional 
Court.

In a written opinion made public on June 22, the Venice Commission of the 
Council of Europe largely backed the amendments drafted by the Armenian 
authorities. But it criticized the authorities’ refusal to introduce a 
transitional period that would “allow for a gradual change in the composition of 
the court in order to avoid any abrupt and immediate change endangering the 
independence of this institution.”

The Strasbourg-based body also said that the authorities should not rush to have 
Tovmasian replaced by another Constitutional Court chairman.

In a letter to Tovmasian publicized by the Constitutional Court on Friday, 
Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio reiterated that the amendments are 
“not in line” with the commission’s recommendations.




COVID-19 Outbreak In Armenian Parliament

        • Ruzanna Stepanian

Armenia -- Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc at a parliament session in 
Yerevan, June 22, 2020.

At least a dozen deputies of Armenia’s 132-member parliament have reportedly 
been infected with the coronavirus amid the continuing spread of the disease in 
the country.

Vahe Enfiajian, a deputy parliament speaker, was the first to announce his 
positive test result on June 23. Several other deputies admitted testing 
positive in the following days.

Enfiajian said he has a fever but not pneumonia when he spoke to RFE/RL’s 
Armenian service from his home on Saturday. He insisted that he does not know 
who might have infected him.

“I always wore a mask in my office,” said the senior lawmaker affiliated with 
the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

Enfiajian said that several other BHK deputies have also tested positive for the 
virus and had to self-isolate. One of them, Arman Abovian, confirmed his 
infection on Saturday.

Abovian, who is a senior BHK member, said he does not know whether the party’s 
top leader, Gagik Tsarukian, has also been affected by the outbreak.

For the last two weeks BHK’s 25-strong parliamentary group has boycotted 
sessions of the National Assembly in protest against its pro-government 
majority’s June 16 decision to lift Tsarukian’s immunity from prosecution. The 
BHK leader is facing accusations of vote buying which he rejects as politically 
motivated.

The parliamentary majority representing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step 
bloc has also been hit by COVID-19 infections. One of its deputies, Hayk 
Gevorgian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that he had a coronavirus test on June 
24 hours after showing some symptoms of the disease during a parliament session. 
He said he believe that he was infected inside the parliament building.

According to Gevorgian, there were 7 confirmed coronavirus cases among My Step 
deputies as of Saturday.

Another pro-government lawmaker, Karen Hambardzumian, admitted testing positive 
on Monday. “I am being examined in hospital,” he told the Armenpress news agency.

The Bright Armenia Party, the third political group represented in the 
parliament, said at the weekend that there have been no infections among its 
deputies so far.

Despite the outbreak, the parliament’s leadership reportedly decided on Monday 
to hold an emergency session of the parliament on Tuesday. It was not clear how 
it will try to prevent a further spread of the virus among deputies and 
parliament staffers.

The deputies have had to wear masks on the parliament floor and in their offices 
for the past month. The parliament statutes do not allow them to attend sessions 
and vote via a video link.

The Armenian health authorities have reported 25,127 coronavirus cases and at 
least 433 deaths caused by them so far.




Armenians Urged To Stay At Home


Armenia -- Medics clad in protective suits at Yerevan's Nork Hospital for 
Infectious Diseases treating coronavirus patients, June 5, 2020.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian urged people to stop meeting relatives and 
friends, avoid going to restaurants and stay at home “as much as possible” on 
Sunday as official statistics showed no letup in coronavirus infections in 
Armenia.

“We need a conscious lockdown, rather than an obligatory one,” Torosian wrote on 
his Facebook page. “We all must limit our nonessential contacts, movements, 
visits, events and meetings. We must stay at home as much as possible.”

“Do not visit your loved ones unless there a vital need for that,” he said.

Armenians, he said, must also minimize physical contact with neighbors, shun 
birthday parties and funerals, end sight-seeing day trips to the countryside and 
even refrain from evening strolls in streets or parks.

“Stop visiting cafes and restaurants,” added the minister. “These are the only 
places where you can be without a mask and infect each other.”


Armenia - A newly reopened cafe in downtown Yerevan, May 14, 2020.

The latter point prompted strong criticism from the Armenian Association of 
Restaurants. “Amid a sharp decrease in sales, such a categorical appeal looks 
like a death verdict for public food service companies,” it said in a statement.

The statement insisted that the vast majority of restaurants operate in “strict 
compliance” with safety and hygiene rules set by the Armenia government. It 
argued that restaurants flouting the rules are temporarily shut down by relevant 
authorities.

Torosian appealed to the population as the Armenian Ministry of Health 
registered 736 new coronavirus cases. The ministry reported 482 single-day 
infections the following morning. The decrease was apparently due to a smaller 
number of coronavirus tests carried out on Sunday.

According to the ministry, 7 more people died from COVID-19 in the past day, 
bringing Armenia’s official death toll to 433. The figure does not include the 
deaths of 143 other people who were also infected with the disease. The health 
authorities say that they were primarily caused by other, pre-existing 
conditions.


Armenia -- People walk in the center of Yerevan, June 10, 2020.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million reached 
25,127 by Monday morning. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian acknowledged on Friday 
that Armenia now has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world.

Despite the continuing spread of the virus, Pashinian has repeatedly indicated 
that his government has no plans to impose another lockdown and will continue 
instead to put the emphasis on getting more Armenians to practice social 
distancing and wear face masks in public. The premier said on Friday that the 
government is planning a further toughening of sanctions against people not 
complying with these rules.

The government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down schools, universities 
and most nonessential businesses at the start of the coronavirus crisis in late 
March. But it began easing those restrictions already in mid-April and all but 
ended the lockdown by the beginning of May.

The number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply since then. Critics say that 
the lockdown was lifted too soon.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

 


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