RFE/RL Armenian Report – 01/14/2021

                                        Thursday, 

Government Wants New Judges For Arrests, Corruption Cases


Armenia -- A court building in Yerevan, June 9, 2020.

The Armenian government formally approved on Thursday a proposal to hire new 
judges who would deal only with corruption cases or pre-trial arrests of 
criminal suspects sought by law-enforcement authorities.

A relevant bill drafted by the Ministry of Justice calls for the selection of up 
to 21 such judges for Armenian courts of first instance. Three other new judges 
specializing in arrests or corruption-related offenses would be appointed to the 
Court of Appeals.

“The increase in the number of judges would shorten criminal and judicial 
proceedings,” Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said during a cabinet meeting 
chaired by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Badasian said it would also result in “more objective” court rulings on arrest 
warrants demanded by investigators.

In recent months Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement bodies to 
arrest dozens of opposition leaders and members as well as other anti-government 
activists. Virtually all of those individuals are prosecuted in connection with 
angry protests sparked by the Pashinian administration’s handling of the autumn 
war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian charged last month that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a 
“pseudo-elite” which is trying to topple him after the disastrous war. Badasian 
likewise accused judges of routinely acting in a “non-objective” manner.

Ruben Vartazarian, the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council overseeing the 
Armenian judiciary, rejected the criticism.

Some critics of the Armenian government have already expressed concern over its 
plans to install magistrates tasked with allowing or blocking pre-trial arrests. 
They claim that the government wants to make sure that courts stop hampering 
politically motivated investigations ordered by it.

Pashinian insisted on Thursday that the bill is part of his administration’s 
stated efforts to make the judiciary more independent and effective. He said 
that the new judges would undergo thorough “integrity checks” during the 
selection and appointment process.



Moscow Denies Pashinian’s Claims On Karabakh Peace Plan


Armenia -- Igor Popov, the new Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, visits 
Yerevan, 28Apr2010.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has misrepresented proposals to resolve the 
Nagorno-Karabakh jointly made by Russia, the United States and France, according 
to a senior Russian diplomat.

Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, has specifically 
denied Pashinian’s claims that the three mediating powers pressured the Armenian 
side to give seven districts around Karabakh back to Azerbaijan and offered it 
nothing in return.

Pashinian repeatedly criticized their peace proposals during and after the 
recent war with Azerbaijan. He dismissed critics’ arguments that he could have 
prevented the disastrous war by accepting the proposals based on the so-called 
Madrid Principles of a Karabakh settlement, which were first put forward by the 
U.S., Russian and French mediators in 2007.

In a January 4 article, Pashinian claimed that the most recent version of the 
peace plan drafted by Russia and backed by the two other co-chairs of the OSCE 
Minsk Group amounted to a proposed “surrender of lands” to Azerbaijan “in return 
for nothing.” He said it left open the key question of Karabakh’s status.

Popov bluntly denied that in written comments posted on the Russian Foreign 
Ministry’s website on Wednesday. He argued that under the Minsk Group plan 
Karabakh’s population would be able to determine the disputed territory’s 
internationally recognized status in a future legally binding referendum.

Popov also stressed that the plan tied Armenian withdrawal from two of the seven 
districts, Lachin and Kelbajar, to the determination of Karabakh’s status.

“Therefore, the claims that Russia proposed [the Armenians] to return the seven 
districts ‘for nothing,’ forget about the status and calm down do not correspond 
to reality,” he said.

“Neither the Armenian nor the Azerbaijani side rejected these proposals, even 
though a full agreement [between the two sides] was never reached. But the 
bottom line is that negotiations were held on a regular basis up until 2018 when 
Yerevan came up with new approaches,” Popov added in another jibe at Armenia’s 
current leadership.


Austria -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian greets the U.S., Russian and 
French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group before talks with Azerbaijan's 
President Ilham Aliyev, Vienna March 29, 2019.

Pashinian and his office declined on Thursday to comment on Popov’s 
extraordinary remarks.

Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian acknowledged in that regard that Moscow has never 
neglected the issue of Karabakh’s status. “I definitely agree with Mr. Popov in 
that Artsakh’s status has been and remains the most important aspect of the 
conflict’s resolution,” he told reporters.

Asked about the clear contradiction between Pashinian’s and Popov’s statements, 
Ayvazian said: “I don’t comment on the prime minister’s statements and other 
comments which are often taken out of context.”

Meanwhile, Armenian opposition figures -- and former President Serzh Sarkisian’s 
political allies in particular -- seized upon Popov's statement to again 
denounce Pashinian's policies on the Karabakh conflict.

Armen Ashotian, the deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), said 
Popov branded the Armenian prime minister a liar. In Ashotian’s words, the 
Russian mediator also effectively accused Pashinian of torpedoing the Karabakh 
peace process and paving the way for the autumn war won by Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani army recaptured four of the seven districts which had been 
occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s. Baku agreed to stop its 
military operations on November 10 in return for an Armenian pledge to withdraw 
from the three other districts.

The Armenian opposition blames Pashinian for the defeat and demands his 
resignation. The latter rejects these demands.



Armenian Minister Reports 8.5% GDP Drop In 2020

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia -- Workers rebuild a road in Gegharkunik province, Juy 4, 2020.

Armenia’s economy shrunk by 8.5 percent in 2020 after three consecutive years of 
robust growth, Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian said on Thursday.

Kerobian estimated that the country’s exports and imports as well as domestic 
consumption were down by a combined 20 percent. He gave no further macroeconomic 
data.

The Armenian government’s Statistical Committee reported last month that the 
volume of trade and services plunged by more than 13 percent in January-November 
2020.

The committee has not yet released a full-year GDP growth figure. It reported 
earlier that the Armenian economy contracted by 14 percent in the second quarter 
and by over 9 percent in the third quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus 
pandemic.

The Central Bank of Armenia forecast in mid-September a full-year GDP decline 
6.2 percent. The economic situation in the country worsened further following 
the ensuing outbreak of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a 
Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.


Armenia -- Armenian Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian attends a cabinet meeting in 
Yerevan, .

“My optimism regarding the economy hasn’t changed,” Kerobian told reporters 
after a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “Double-digit economic growth remains my 
target.”

Kerobian, who was appointed as minister in late November, did not specify when 
he thinks Armenia can achieve such growth.

Speaking during the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said: “I 
want to wish us success so that we can properly fulfill our duties in this 
difficult period and get the country out of the crisis. To this end we need to 
make special efforts.”

In its 2021 state budget approved by the Armenian parliament, Pashinian’s 
government projected a GDP growth rate of 3.2 percent for this year.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Armenian economy to expand by only 1 
percent in 2021. The IMF said last month that the country’s growth prospects are 
“contingent upon the anticipated global recovery and domestic reform 
implementation.”


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