RFE/RL Armenian Report – 09/17/2020

                                        Thursday, 

Former Armenian Police Chief Charged Over Threats To RFE/RL Reporters


Armenia - Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian meets with police officers in 
Kotayk region,23Feb,2017

Former Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian has been indicted for 
threatening two RFE/RL Armenian Service journalists and obstructing their work 
on a report about government plans to dismantle private houses illegally 
constructed near Lake Sevan.
Gasparian on August 8 drove his vehicle in the direction of the reporters, 
almost running over them, after seeing that they were filming his luxury house 
located in the lakeside area. He threatened them with violence and, using 
offensive language, forced them to erase their footage.

RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the incident to the police, which Gasparian 
headed for seven years before being dismissed after the change of the country’s 
government in May 2018.

"We demand that police investigate the incident, and that Mr. Gasparian be held 
accountable for endangering journalists who were simply doing their jobs," 
RFE/RL's acting President Daisy Sindelar said in a statement.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Thursday that Gasparian has been 
formally charged with “obstruction of legitimate professional activities of 
journalists,” a crime punishable by fines and up to year one of corrective 
labor. In a statement, the law-enforcement agency said the former police chief 
has signed a written pledge not to leave the country pending investigation.

Gasparian denied any wrongdoing following the incident. He did not immediately 
react to the indictment.


Armenia - A view of Lake Sevan, July 24, 2018.

The Investigative Committee announced on September 2 that it has launched a 
separate inquiry into the legality of Gasparian’s villa and other lakeside 
properties making up a vast compound. It said some of the properties may have 
been built and officially registered in violation of Armenian laws strictly 
regulating construction in the environmentally sensitive area.

Newly appointed Environment Minister Romanos Petrosian said last month that 
authorities will soon start dismantling illegal constructions near Lake Sevan. 
Several other former high-ranking officials also reportedly own houses located 
there.



NGO Activists Hit Back At Pashinian

        • Ruzanna Stepanian

Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (C) talks to deputies from hs My Step 
bloc during a parliament session, Yerevan, .

Representatives of several civic groups deplored on Thursday Prime Minister 
Nikol Pashinian’s angry reaction to their criticism of the choice of three new 
members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court confirmed by the parliament.

The Western-funded non-governmental organizations voiced earlier this week 
serious concerns over two of those justices nominated by Pashinian’s government 
and a national convention of judges, saying that they were linked to Armenia’s 
former leadership.

One of them, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation for the last 
two years while the other, Edgar Shatirian, taught law at a university. Some 
civic activists claim that their election on Tuesday by the Armenian parliament 
controlled by the ruling My Step bloc constituted a betrayal of the goals of the 
2018 “Velvet Revolution” that brought Pashinian to power.

The prime minister blasted the critics when he spoke in the National Assembly on 
Wednesday. He charged that they are primarily concerned with their own parochial 
interests, rather than the rule of law. He also said they cannot act like 
“ardent defenders of the revolution’s values” because they played no part in the 
popular uprising in the first place.

Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens challenged Pashinian to name 
names instead of “talking abstractly about everyone.”

Ioannisian said he and other disgruntled activists have a moral right to speak 
up on the matter because of their history of human rights advocacy in the 
country. Besides, he said, many of Pashinian’s own loyalists used to work for 
the former regime or did not participate in the revolution for other reasons.

“Even if some group wanted to see some people join the Constitutional Court, 
what’s wrong with that?” said Levon Barseghian, the head of the Gyumri-based 
Asparez Journalists’ Club.

Barseghian insisted that Pashinian’s administration made “bad decisions” 
regarding the new Constitutional Court members. “The constitutional crisis in 
the country has not been solved,” he said. “The crisis was not about replacing 
three judges. At issue are radical reforms, including a reform of the 
Constitutional Court.”

For more than a year, Pashinian was locked in a standoff with seven of the nine 
Constitutional Court judges installed before the revolution. He pressured them 
to resign, accusing them of maintaining close ties to the country’s “corrupt” 
former rulers and impeding his judicial reforms.

Three of those judges were controversially ousted as a result of constitutional 
amendments enacted by the current authorities in June. The amendments also 
required Hrayr Tovmasian 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.



Parliament Majority Stands By Embattled Minister

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia -- Supporters of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party demand 
Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian's resignation, Yerevan, .

The Armenian parliament voted down on Thursday an opposition motion to seek 
Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian’s dismissal after a heated debate that 
sparked a fresh war of words between the ruling political team and the 
opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

Harutiunian has faced in recent weeks small-scale street protests staged by 
various extra-parliamentary opposition groups and activists. They are 
particularly unhappy with new guidelines for the teaching of Armenian history, 
literature and other subjects in schools, which were issued by his ministry this 
summer.

The protesters claim that those guidelines are at odds at with traditional 
Armenian values. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports denies this and 
cites the need to update school curricula.

Harutiunian defended his policies at a news conference on Wednesday. He said 
that the ministry has been constructively discussing the guidelines with 
teachers across the country and has received more than 2,000 proposals from 
them. He also claimed that some veteran academics oppose the declared reforms 
because they have been stripped of lavish funding that had been provided to them 
by Armenia’s former government.


Armenia -- Education Minister Arayik Harutyunian at a news conference, Yerevan, 


The two opposition groups represented in the parliament added their voice to the 
calls for Harutiunian’s resignation. They forced later on Wednesday a parliament 
debate on their proposal to petition Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to sack the 
minister and his longtime political ally.

The National Assembly rejected the motion by 84 votes to 35. Deputies from 
Pashinian’s My Step bloc, which controls 88 parliament seats, voiced strong 
support for the embattled minister during the debate.

Their colleagues representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) accused 
Harutiunian of mismanaging the country’s education system. One of them, Gevorg 
Gorgisian, alleged that the current authorities are bullying and firing 
schoolteachers for political reasons.

Harutiunian, who is a senior member of My Step, strongly denied that. “For the 
past 30 years our teachers have never been as free as they are now,” declared 
the 41-year-old former university lecturer.

Harutiunian went on to trade insults with lawmakers from the opposition 
Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), who charged that he promoted “perversion” by 
meeting with a transgender activist in his office in 2018. He hit back by 
seemingly pointing to BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s past criminal record.


Armenia -- Prosperous Armena Party leader Gagik Tsarukian speaks to journalists 
in parliament, Yerevan, June 16, 2020.

A Soviet Armenian court had convicted Tsarukian of involvement in a 1979 gang 
rape of two women outside Yerevan and sentenced him to 7 years in prison. Newly 
independent Armenia’s Court of Cassation overturned the guilty verdict in the 
mid-1990s.

The BHK’s parliamentary group condemned Harutiunian and boycotted the 
government’s ensuing question-and-answer session in the National Assembly in 
protest.

Pashinian endorsed Harutiunian’s thinly veiled attack on Tsarukian the following 
morning. “It’s hard to disagree with the minister,” he wrote on Facebook.

Tsarukian responded by calling for a constitutional amendment that would bar 
“individuals with serious mental problems” from holding high-level government 
posts.

Tsarukian, who is also a wealthy businessman, was stripped of his parliamentary 
immunity from prosecution and charged with vote buying in June. He strongly 
denies the accusation, saying that Pashinian ordered it in response to his calls 
for the government’s resignation.


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