Asbarez: Pressure to Fire Armenia’s Supreme Judicial Council Head Mounts

Head of the country’s Supreme Judicial Council Gagik Jhangiaryan

Pressure is mounting on Armenia’s authorities to fire and prosecute the head of the country’s Supreme Judicial Council Gagik Jhangiaryan after a secret recording of him surfaced on Monday, in which he is allegedly blackmailing his predecessor Ruben Vartazaryan, who was controversially suspended from his position last year when he criticized Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The Supreme Judicial Council, however, signaled its reluctance to take action against Jahangirian, who also has been a controversial in Armenian political circles for more than a decade.

Vartazaryan, who was fired last year, released the secret recording of a conversation he had with Jhangiaryan during a dinner meeting last year. Jhangiaryan can be heard on the recording urging Vartazaryan to resign or face criminal charges.

Armenian authorities faced on Tuesday growing calls to sack and prosecute the acting head of the country’s judicial watchdog accused of blackmailing his predecessor at odds with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Jhangiaryan has not yet disputed the authenticity of the recording.

Vartazaryan did not heed Jhangiaryan’s call and was charged with obstruction of justice. In April 2021, the other members of the Supreme Judicial Council suspended Vartazaryan, with Pashinyan supporters accusing him of allegedly planning to free opposition figures jailed or prosecuted since Pashinyan came to power.

The SJC is a judicial watchdog group, which is tasked with nominating judges and monitoring their work. The group is empowered to take disciplinary action or fire judges if it concludes they are fulfilling their responsibilities.

Vartazaryan has denied any wrongdoing and has rejected the charges brought against him. He has maintained that the entire incident was machinated by the government, which allegedly sought to oust him from the SJC and appoint a loyalist—Jhangiaryan, who in the recording says that he wants to prevent former president Robert Kocharian from coming to power.

After the release of the recording, opposition groups and activists swiftly reacted to the contents of the conversation, with one activist, Daniel Ioannisyan, telling RFE/RL’s Armenian service that he has filed a “criminal report” with the country’s prosecutor general’s office, which said that it has launched an inquiry.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for an individual carrying out such deeds or making such a confession … to continue to serve as head of the Supreme Judicial Council,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

The SJC discussed the scandal at a meeting held on Tuesday. One of its members, Grigor Bekmezyan, said that neither he nor any of his colleagues demanded disciplinary proceedings against Jhangiaryan.

“Mr. Jhangiaryan gave us clarifications and explanations,” Bekmezyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “We are satisfied with what we have at this point. In order to have a full picture, we need a full audio [of the February 2021 meeting with Vartazarian.]”

After the release of the recording, the opposition Armenia Alliance addressed a letter to Lynne Tracy and Andrea Wiktorin, the ambassadors of the United States and the European Union in Armenia, urging them to publicly voice their assessment of the situation, given their long-standing praise for Armenia’s judicial reforms.

Wiktorian was one of the speakers at a judicial reforms conference in Yerevan, from which the opposition members of parliament were banned.

In its letter, the Armenia Alliance tells the ambassadors that the recording “contains elements of criminal offenses, interference in pending criminal cases, as well as literal threats in case of refusal to fulfil specific demands. We have voiced the existence of such phenomena in Armenia many times only to encounter your silence. These circumstances are to be examined by the law enforcement bodies, to which, however, according to the recording, the well-known member of the Supreme Judicial Council, Gagik Jhangiaryan, in fact, feels entitled to give mandatory instructions.”

“The recording also contains a promise to interfere in political activities, the consequences of which are in fact recorded, including through allegedly fair and transparent parliamentary elections. Gagik Jhangiaryan, the person vested with exclusive authority in charge of the judiciary, confesses that he has undertaken to interfere in the political activities of Robert Kocharian, who led the pre-election list of the ‘Armenia’ alliance, and the ARF. It is worth noting that on the day of the snap elections, June 20, 2021, as well as in the pre-election and post-election periods, we have voiced the obviously biased, dependent behavior of the judiciary towards the opposition political team over and over only to face your silence again,” said the letter.

“Failure to provide answers to the aforementioned questions in a short period of time will be considered, by reasonable logic, as evidence of your support regarding the stated vivid unlawful atrocities.
The copy of this letter has been forwarded to all the ambassadors accredited in Armenia,” the Armenia Alliance said in the letter.

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