RFE/RL Armenian Report – 09/14/2020

                                        Monday, 

Armenian Opposition To Boycott Election Of New High Court Judges

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia - Deputies start the autumn session of the Armenian parliament, Yerevan, 
.

Opposition members of the Armenian parliament said on Monday that they will 
boycott the election of three new members of the Constitutional Court who will 
replace justices controversially ousted in June.

The deputies representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright 
Armenia (LHK) parties again challenged the legality of constitutional changes 
enacted by the parliament’s pro-government majority.

The changes call for the gradual resignation of seven of the Constitutional 
Court’s nine judges who have been locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s political team. Three of them were to resign with immediate effect. 
Also, Hrayr Tovmasian had to quit as court chairman but remain a judge.

Tovmasian and the ousted judges refused to step down, saying that their removal 
is illegal and politically motivated. They appealed to the European Court of 
Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.

Despite the legal action, Pashinian, President Armen Sarkissian and a national 
convention of Armenian judges have each nominated a candidate to replace the 
ousted judges. Under the Armenian constitution, all new members of the 
Constitutional Court must be appointed by the parliament in secret ballot.

The National Assembly discussed the three candidacies ahead of the vote 
scheduled for Tuesday. The candidates held separate meetings with deputies from 
Pashinian’s My Step bloc prior to the parliament session. None of them met with 
the BHK’s and the LHK’s parliamentary groups, a fact deplored by the latter.

“I have been a member of the parliament since 2007 and can’t recall any other 
case of parliamentary opposition factions being ignored in this fashion,” said 
the BHK’s Naira Zohrabian.


Armenia -- Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian reads out a court 
ruling, Yerevan, March 17, 2020.

Ruben Rubinian, a senior My Step lawmaker, criticized the opposition boycott. He 
also dismissed other critics’ claims that all three candidates for the vacant 
Constitutional Court seats were linked to Armenia’s former leadership in one way 
or another.

The candidates were asked tough questions by other pro-government lawmakers. One 
of the candidates, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation, the 
country’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice, for the last two 
years. He was nominated by fellow judges in early August.

According to media reports, the state Commission on the Prevention of Corruption 
has advised the parliament against appointing Khundkarian, citing his judicial 
track record.

Also, My Step’s Taguhi Tovmasian cited a 2013 report by the country’s former 
human rights ombudsman which accused Khundkarian of helping the former Armenian 
authorities suppress judicial independence. The nominee strongly denied that.

Another candidate, Artur Vagharshian, was picked by President Armen Sarkissian. 
Vagharshian is a chair of jurisprudence at Yerevan State University. Sarkissian 
already nominated him for a vacant seat in the Constitutional Court as recently 
as in May 2019. The parliament majority rejected his candidacy at the time.

Pro-government lawmakers were clearly unhappy with the president’s decision to 
again try to have Vagharshian appointed to the high court.



Tsarukian’s Party Faces Another Probe Into ‘Vote Buying’

        • Gayane Saribekian

Armenia - Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Tsarukian Bloc, casts his vote at the 
parliamentary election, Arinj village, 02Apr,2017

Law-enforcement authorities raised the possibility of more criminal charges 
against businessman Gagik Tsarukian on Monday when they claimed that employees 
of one of his companies had bought votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

The State Revenue Committee (SRC) said some workers of a Tsarukian-owned cement 
plant located in the southern town of Ararat handed out vote bribes to local 
residents in the run-up to parliamentary elections held in 2012 and 2017.

In a statement, the SRC also claimed to have obtained “factual data” indicating 
that other workers were told to join the BHK and earn it votes or lose their 
jobs. They then presented the management of the Ararat Tsement plant with lists 
of people planning to vote for Tsarukian’s party at their urging, it said in a 
statement.

The statement gave no other details. It said the SRC, which comprises Armenia’s 
tax and customs services, has sent the criminal case to the Office of the 
Prosecutor-General for further investigation.

A spokesman for the office, Gor Abrahamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that 
nobody has been charged as part of that case yet. “It’s too early to speak about 
that now,” he said.

Abrahamian also said that the prosecutors have already instructed the National 
Security Service (NSS) to look into the SRC claims. The case may well be 
incorporated into an ongoing NSS investigation into vote buying allegedly 
ordered by Tsarukian.


Armenia -- Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian (C) emerges from his 
villa in Arinj after it was raided by security forces, Jne 14, 2020.

The NSS charged in June that Tsarukian “created and led an organized group” that 
bought more than 17,000 votes for the BHK during the 2017 parliamentary race. 
The tycoon, whose party has the second largest group in Armenia’s current 
parliament, rejects the accusations as politically motivated. He claims that 
they were “fabricated” in response to his calls for Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s resignation voiced earlier in June.

One of Tsarukian’s lawyers, Emin Khachatrian, dismissed the SRC’s claims as “not 
credible” while acknowledging that he is not familiar with their details.

Senior BHK representatives could not be reached for comment on Monday.



Opposition Lawmakers Drop Plans For Anti-Abortion Bill


Armenia - The Prosperous Armenia Party's mayoral candidate Naira Zohrabian 
speaks at an election campaign rally in Yerevan, 21 September 2018.

Citing strong objections from civil society members, two opposition 
parliamentarians have abandoned plans to introduce legislation that would ban 
abortions in Armenia except in cases of medical emergency.

Naira Zohrabian of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) announced last 
week that she and fellow BHK deputy Shake Isayan will circulate a “draft law on 
unborn children’s right to life” in the coming days. Zohrabian cited a large 
number of abortions carried out in the country. She said the bill is also 
necessary for tackling the chronic problem of gender-based selective abortions.

Health experts and civic activists strongly objected to the proposed ban. They 
argued, among other things, that Armenian law already prohibits selective 
abortions.

Zohrabian complained about critics’ “attacks” but sought to distance herself 
from the bill on Monday. She said that it was drafted and put forward by 
“several pro-governmental organizations.”

Zohrabian, who also heads the Armenian parliament committee on human rights, 
said she and Isayan decided not to press for the bill’s passage by the National 
Assembly because other NGOs came up with “substantiated” arguments against the 
proposed ban.

According to Zohrabian, parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan recently forwarded 
the same bill to a parliament committee on public health and social affairs 
after receiving it from the same authors. Most members of the committee spoke 
out against banning abortions, she wrote on Facebook.

Abortion has been legal in Armenia since Soviet times. Armenian law currently 
allows the procedure during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.



Armenia Backs Egypt In Row With Turkey


Egypt - Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) and his Armenian counterpart 
Zohrab Mnatsakanian hold a news confrence after talks in Cairo, September 14, 
2020.

Armenia voiced on Monday strong support for Egypt’s position in bitter disputes 
with Turkey over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and the 
conflict in Libya.

Making an official visit to Cairo, Foreign Zohrab Mnatsakanian also accused 
Ankara of destabilizing these and neighboring regions, including the South 
Caucasus.

“We are following closely developments in the Eastern Mediterranean,” 
Mnatsakanian said after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. “We 
are in solidarity with Greece and Cyprus on their inalienable rights to economic 
activities in the exclusive economic zone in line with international law.”

“I want to also emphasize our solidarity and support to Egypt in the same way,” 
he told a joint news conference held shortly before his separate meeting with 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Mnatsakanian went on to praise Egypt’s “commitment to peace and stability” in 
Libya where Cairo and Ankara support rival warring factions. “We very much 
welcome your efforts in this regard,” he told Shoukry.

Tensions between Turkey on one side and Greece, Cyprus and Egypt on the other 
have grown in recent months over conflicting claims to the extent of their 
continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean.

In early August, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement designating their 
exclusive economic zone in the region thought to be rich in natural gas. Both 
nations had denounced as illegal a similar deal signed by Turkey and Libya’s 
internationally recognized government earlier. For its part, the Turkish 
government described the Greek-Egyptian agreement as null and void before 
ordering more preparatory work for potential hydrocarbons exploration.


Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in the Mediterranean Sea.
Armenia publicly sided with Greece and Cyprus later in August, sparking a 
renewed war of words with its big neighbor and arch-rival. Yerevan and Ankara 
began trading bitter accusations following the July 12 outbreak of heavy 
fighting on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, Turkey’s regional ally.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders blamed Yerevan for the 
weeklong deadly hostilities and reaffirmed support for Baku in unusually strong 
terms, raising the possibility of Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh 
conflict.

Mnatsakanian expressed serious concern over the Turkish “military buildup” and 
cited unconfirmed reports that Ankara is recruiting Islamist militants in Syria 
and sending them to Azerbaijan. “These are exactly the moves which undermine the 
efforts towards peace and stability in the region,” he said.

In that context, the Armenian minister spoke of the “same sources of 
destabilization” in the South Caucasus, the east Mediterranean and North Africa. 
“Any attempts to export instability and escalation to different regions as part 
of power projection is deplorable, whether it is in North Africa or in the South 
Caucasus,” he said in another jibe at Ankara.

Successive Turkish governments have refused to establish diplomatic relations 
with Yerevan and open the Turkish-Armenian border out of solidarity with 
Azerbaijan. They have made the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations 
conditional on a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Baku.


Egypt - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) meets with Armenian Foreign 
Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian, Cairo, .
Turkey’s relationship with Egypt has been strained ever since the 2013 overthrow 
of the Arab nation’s former Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi. The latter was 
supported by Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party during his short rule. Many 
members and supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood fled to Turkey after the 
coup.

Mnatsakanian seemed satisfied with his “very good discussion” with the Egyptian 
foreign minister, saying that it focused not only on international security but 
also ways of expanding Armenian-Egyptian relations. “We are keen to take 
practical steps in this direction,” he said.

The top Armenian diplomat also said his country supports Egypt’s efforts to sign 
a free-trade deal with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

He further revealed that al-Sisi is planning to visit Armenia. But he gave no 
possible dates for the trip.


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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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS

RFE/RL Armenian Report – 09/14/2020

                                        Monday, 

Armenian Opposition To Boycott Election Of New High Court Judges

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia - Deputies start the autumn session of the Armenian parliament, Yerevan, 
.

Opposition members of the Armenian parliament said on Monday that they will 
boycott the election of three new members of the Constitutional Court who will 
replace justices controversially ousted in June.

The deputies representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright 
Armenia (LHK) parties again challenged the legality of constitutional changes 
enacted by the parliament’s pro-government majority.

The changes call for the gradual resignation of seven of the Constitutional 
Court’s nine judges who have been locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s political team. Three of them were to resign with immediate effect. 
Also, Hrayr Tovmasian had to quit as court chairman but remain a judge.

Tovmasian and the ousted judges refused to step down, saying that their removal 
is illegal and politically motivated. They appealed to the European Court of 
Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.

Despite the legal action, Pashinian, President Armen Sarkissian and a national 
convention of Armenian judges have each nominated a candidate to replace the 
ousted judges. Under the Armenian constitution, all new members of the 
Constitutional Court must be appointed by the parliament in secret ballot.

The National Assembly discussed the three candidacies ahead of the vote 
scheduled for Tuesday. The candidates held separate meetings with deputies from 
Pashinian’s My Step bloc prior to the parliament session. None of them met with 
the BHK’s and the LHK’s parliamentary groups, a fact deplored by the latter.

“I have been a member of the parliament since 2007 and can’t recall any other 
case of parliamentary opposition factions being ignored in this fashion,” said 
the BHK’s Naira Zohrabian.


Armenia -- Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian reads out a court 
ruling, Yerevan, March 17, 2020.

Ruben Rubinian, a senior My Step lawmaker, criticized the opposition boycott. He 
also dismissed other critics’ claims that all three candidates for the vacant 
Constitutional Court seats were linked to Armenia’s former leadership in one way 
or another.

The candidates were asked tough questions by other pro-government lawmakers. One 
of the candidates, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation, the 
country’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice, for the last two 
years. He was nominated by fellow judges in early August.

According to media reports, the state Commission on the Prevention of Corruption 
has advised the parliament against appointing Khundkarian, citing his judicial 
track record.

Also, My Step’s Taguhi Tovmasian cited a 2013 report by the country’s former 
human rights ombudsman which accused Khundkarian of helping the former Armenian 
authorities suppress judicial independence. The nominee strongly denied that.

Another candidate, Artur Vagharshian, was picked by President Armen Sarkissian. 
Vagharshian is a chair of jurisprudence at Yerevan State University. Sarkissian 
already nominated him for a vacant seat in the Constitutional Court as recently 
as in May 2019. The parliament majority rejected his candidacy at the time.

Pro-government lawmakers were clearly unhappy with the president’s decision to 
again try to have Vagharshian appointed to the high court.



Tsarukian’s Party Faces Another Probe Into ‘Vote Buying’

        • Gayane Saribekian

Armenia - Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Tsarukian Bloc, casts his vote at the 
parliamentary election, Arinj village, 02Apr,2017

Law-enforcement authorities raised the possibility of more criminal charges 
against businessman Gagik Tsarukian on Monday when they claimed that employees 
of one of his companies had bought votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

The State Revenue Committee (SRC) said some workers of a Tsarukian-owned cement 
plant located in the southern town of Ararat handed out vote bribes to local 
residents in the run-up to parliamentary elections held in 2012 and 2017.

In a statement, the SRC also claimed to have obtained “factual data” indicating 
that other workers were told to join the BHK and earn it votes or lose their 
jobs. They then presented the management of the Ararat Tsement plant with lists 
of people planning to vote for Tsarukian’s party at their urging, it said in a 
statement.

The statement gave no other details. It said the SRC, which comprises Armenia’s 
tax and customs services, has sent the criminal case to the Office of the 
Prosecutor-General for further investigation.

A spokesman for the office, Gor Abrahamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that 
nobody has been charged as part of that case yet. “It’s too early to speak about 
that now,” he said.

Abrahamian also said that the prosecutors have already instructed the National 
Security Service (NSS) to look into the SRC claims. The case may well be 
incorporated into an ongoing NSS investigation into vote buying allegedly 
ordered by Tsarukian.


Armenia -- Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian (C) emerges from his 
villa in Arinj after it was raided by security forces, Jne 14, 2020.

The NSS charged in June that Tsarukian “created and led an organized group” that 
bought more than 17,000 votes for the BHK during the 2017 parliamentary race. 
The tycoon, whose party has the second largest group in Armenia’s current 
parliament, rejects the accusations as politically motivated. He claims that 
they were “fabricated” in response to his calls for Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s resignation voiced earlier in June.

One of Tsarukian’s lawyers, Emin Khachatrian, dismissed the SRC’s claims as “not 
credible” while acknowledging that he is not familiar with their details.

Senior BHK representatives could not be reached for comment on Monday.



Opposition Lawmakers Drop Plans For Anti-Abortion Bill


Armenia - The Prosperous Armenia Party's mayoral candidate Naira Zohrabian 
speaks at an election campaign rally in Yerevan, 21 September 2018.

Citing strong objections from civil society members, two opposition 
parliamentarians have abandoned plans to introduce legislation that would ban 
abortions in Armenia except in cases of medical emergency.

Naira Zohrabian of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) announced last 
week that she and fellow BHK deputy Shake Isayan will circulate a “draft law on 
unborn children’s right to life” in the coming days. Zohrabian cited a large 
number of abortions carried out in the country. She said the bill is also 
necessary for tackling the chronic problem of gender-based selective abortions.

Health experts and civic activists strongly objected to the proposed ban. They 
argued, among other things, that Armenian law already prohibits selective 
abortions.

Zohrabian complained about critics’ “attacks” but sought to distance herself 
from the bill on Monday. She said that it was drafted and put forward by 
“several pro-governmental organizations.”

Zohrabian, who also heads the Armenian parliament committee on human rights, 
said she and Isayan decided not to press for the bill’s passage by the National 
Assembly because other NGOs came up with “substantiated” arguments against the 
proposed ban.

According to Zohrabian, parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan recently forwarded 
the same bill to a parliament committee on public health and social affairs 
after receiving it from the same authors. Most members of the committee spoke 
out against banning abortions, she wrote on Facebook.

Abortion has been legal in Armenia since Soviet times. Armenian law currently 
allows the procedure during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.



Armenia Backs Egypt In Row With Turkey


Egypt - Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) and his Armenian counterpart 
Zohrab Mnatsakanian hold a news confrence after talks in Cairo, September 14, 
2020.

Armenia voiced on Monday strong support for Egypt’s position in bitter disputes 
with Turkey over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and the 
conflict in Libya.

Making an official visit to Cairo, Foreign Zohrab Mnatsakanian also accused 
Ankara of destabilizing these and neighboring regions, including the South 
Caucasus.

“We are following closely developments in the Eastern Mediterranean,” 
Mnatsakanian said after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. “We 
are in solidarity with Greece and Cyprus on their inalienable rights to economic 
activities in the exclusive economic zone in line with international law.”

“I want to also emphasize our solidarity and support to Egypt in the same way,” 
he told a joint news conference held shortly before his separate meeting with 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Mnatsakanian went on to praise Egypt’s “commitment to peace and stability” in 
Libya where Cairo and Ankara support rival warring factions. “We very much 
welcome your efforts in this regard,” he told Shoukry.

Tensions between Turkey on one side and Greece, Cyprus and Egypt on the other 
have grown in recent months over conflicting claims to the extent of their 
continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean.

In early August, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement designating their 
exclusive economic zone in the region thought to be rich in natural gas. Both 
nations had denounced as illegal a similar deal signed by Turkey and Libya’s 
internationally recognized government earlier. For its part, the Turkish 
government described the Greek-Egyptian agreement as null and void before 
ordering more preparatory work for potential hydrocarbons exploration.


Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in the Mediterranean Sea.
Armenia publicly sided with Greece and Cyprus later in August, sparking a 
renewed war of words with its big neighbor and arch-rival. Yerevan and Ankara 
began trading bitter accusations following the July 12 outbreak of heavy 
fighting on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, Turkey’s regional ally.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders blamed Yerevan for the 
weeklong deadly hostilities and reaffirmed support for Baku in unusually strong 
terms, raising the possibility of Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh 
conflict.

Mnatsakanian expressed serious concern over the Turkish “military buildup” and 
cited unconfirmed reports that Ankara is recruiting Islamist militants in Syria 
and sending them to Azerbaijan. “These are exactly the moves which undermine the 
efforts towards peace and stability in the region,” he said.

In that context, the Armenian minister spoke of the “same sources of 
destabilization” in the South Caucasus, the east Mediterranean and North Africa. 
“Any attempts to export instability and escalation to different regions as part 
of power projection is deplorable, whether it is in North Africa or in the South 
Caucasus,” he said in another jibe at Ankara.

Successive Turkish governments have refused to establish diplomatic relations 
with Yerevan and open the Turkish-Armenian border out of solidarity with 
Azerbaijan. They have made the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations 
conditional on a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Baku.


Egypt - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) meets with Armenian Foreign 
Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian, Cairo, .
Turkey’s relationship with Egypt has been strained ever since the 2013 overthrow 
of the Arab nation’s former Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi. The latter was 
supported by Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party during his short rule. Many 
members and supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood fled to Turkey after the 
coup.

Mnatsakanian seemed satisfied with his “very good discussion” with the Egyptian 
foreign minister, saying that it focused not only on international security but 
also ways of expanding Armenian-Egyptian relations. “We are keen to take 
practical steps in this direction,” he said.

The top Armenian diplomat also said his country supports Egypt’s efforts to sign 
a free-trade deal with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

He further revealed that al-Sisi is planning to visit Armenia. But he gave no 
possible dates for the trip.


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.

 


You may also like