Friday, Armenian ‘Coup Plotters’ Win European Court Case • Naira Bulghadarian Armenia - An alleged 2015 photograph of members of an Armenian militant group arrested on coup charges. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Armenian investigators violated the rights of the leader and two members of a clandestine militant group that had allegedly plotted to overthrow former President Serzh Sarkisian. The ringleader, Vartanian, and a dozen other individuals were arrested in November 2015 in a dawn raid on their hideout in Yerevan jointly conducted by Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS). The law-enforcement bodies found large quantities of weapons and explosives stashed there. They made more than 20 other arrests in the following weeks. The NSS said afterwards that Vartanian set up a group called the Armenian Shield Regiment before drawing up with his associates detailed plans for the seizure of the presidential administration, government, parliament and state television buildings in Yerevan. It said they also explored the possibility of shooting down President Sarkisian’s plane. Armenia - Security forces detain a man in a raid on a house in Yerevan's Nork district, 25Nov2015. Vartanian admitted acquiring weapons and ammunition for the militant group when he and 19 other persons went on trial in December 2016. He insisted, however, that he never intended to seize power or assassinate Sarkisian. Most of the other defendants, including an Armenian Catholic priest, also rejected the coup charges brought against them. The judge presiding over the continuing trial agreed to free Vartanian on bail in September 2019. All other arrested suspects were released from custody earlier pending a court verdict in the case. Two of them had joined Vartanian in challenging their pre-trial arrest in the ECHR. The Strasbourg-based court ruled this week that the detention period was too long and unjustified and violated a relevant article of the European Convention on Human Rights. It said that Vartanian and another plaintiff, Harutiun Saribekian, must each be paid 6,000 euros ($6,300) in damages. Armenia - Artur Vartanian, the main defendant in the trial of 20 people accused of plotting a coup détat, at a courtroom in Yerevan, 17Mar2017. Vartanian expressed his satisfaction with the ECRH ruling when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian on Friday after the latest session of his protracted trial. “The European Court found that justifications presented by prosecutors and investigators were unfounded,” he said. Vartanian reportedly lived in Spain before returning to Armenia in April 2015 and setting up the Armenian Shield Regiment. According to the NSS, core members of the group underwent secret military training in Vartanian’s paternal village in August-September 2015. Investigators released in late 2016 a photograph, purportedly taken in a village house, of ten masked and armed persons standing under the group’s banner. Armenia, Azerbaijan Trade Fresh Barbs • Aza Babayan Azerbaijan - Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Baku, June24, 2022 Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of not honoring their Russian-brokered agreements during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest visit to Baku concluded on Friday. Meeting with Lavrov on Thursday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev complained that Armenia has still not open road and railway links connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave. He said Moscow should press Yerevan to do that in line with the ceasefire agreement that stopped the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev also claimed that Yerevan has still not reacted to his proposals regarding an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty sought by Baku. In March this year, Azerbaijan presented Armenia with five elements which it wants to be at the heart of the treaty. They include a mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity. The Armenian government said they should be complemented by other issues relating to the future of status of Karabakh and the security of its population. In written comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan pointed to those counterproposals and said Baku has still not officially responded to them. “We see nothing unacceptable in Azerbaijan’s proposals regarding the future peace treaty while complementing those proposals with our ideas,” he said. Mirzoyan also insisted that the Armenian side is interested in transport links between the two South Caucasus states. He said their opening has been hampered by “baseless” Azerbaijani demands for an exterritorial corridor for Nakhichevan. Mirzoyan also said that Azerbaijan still holds dozens of Armenian prisoners in breach of the 2020 ceasefire. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov echoed Aliyev’s claims after holding talks with Lavrov on Friday. “The artificial dragging of the negotiating process carries very serious risks,” Bayramov warned at a joint news conference. Lavrov said, for his part, that Russia will continue to help the two sides negotiate a comprehensive peace accord, demarcate the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and open it to travel and commerce. Visiting Yerevan earlier this month, Lavrov said the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian governments are now finalizing a deal on a “simplified” border control regime for the planned road to Nakhichevan. The road will be under Armenian control, he said. Armenia’s Chief Judicial Officer Refuses To Quit Over Audio Scandal • Naira Nalbandian • Karlen Aslanian Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian, the acting chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, at a news conference in Yerevan, August 2, 2021. Gagik Jahangirian, the controversial acting head of Armenia’s judicial watchdog, has dismissed calls for his resignation sparked by leaked audio in which he appeared to blackmail his predecessor at loggerheads with the government. “I have never been forced by any political force, alliance to tender resignation,” the former senior prosecutor told Armenian Public Television in an interview aired late on Thursday. Ruben Vartazarian, the previous chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), publicized on Monday a 14-minute audio clip which he secretly recorded during a dinner meeting with Jahangirian in February 2021. The meeting took place two months before Vartazarian was controversially suspended as SJC chairman amid rising tensions with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. In the recording full of profanities uttered by him, Jahangirian can be heard seemingly warning Vartazarian to resign or face criminal charges. He says that he has already blocked the opening of one or two criminal cases against the latter. Speaking to the state-controlled TV channel, Jahangirian claimed that he was not in a position to trigger or halt any criminal proceedings and simply tried to trick Vartazarian into resigning. “Do you think that Mr. Vartazarian would write a resignation letter if he knew that there will be cases against him and no guarantees that he will not be punished later on?” he said, adding that he simply used “psychological ploys.” Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian chairs a session of the Supreme Judicial Council, April 4, 2022 Opposition and civic groups are bound to brush aside this explanation. They have said that Jahangirian must be not only sacked but also prosecuted for what they see as blackmail and illegal interference in the work of law-enforcement agencies. One of those agencies, the Investigative Committee, reportedly interrogated Vartazarian on Thursday in a preliminary inquiry into the audio scandal. It is not clear whether the committee will also question Jahangirian. Despite the uproar, the SJC has refused to even start disciplinary proceedings against its acting chairman. The powerful body, which nominates Armenian judges and can also fire them, instead formally dismissed Vartazarian as its nominal chairman and member on Thursday. Jahangirian also says in the leaked recording that a key motive behind his attempts to convince Vartazarian to quit is to prevent Robert Kocharian, a former president and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s leading political foe, from returning to power. Jahangirian told Public Television, however, that he was solely motivated by the need for sweeping judicial reforms in Armenia. He claimed that implementation of such reforms has been his lifetime “mission.” The 67-year-old was accused of grave human rights violations when he served as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor and deputy prosecutor-general in 1997-2006 and 2006-2008 respectively. Local human rights activists say that official cover-ups of crimes committed in the armed forces were the norm during his tenure. Armenia - Human rights activist Zhanna Aleksania, February 4, 2021. “I know him as a bad military prosecutor who neglected people and covered up cases,” one such activist, Zhanna Aleksanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Putting him at the helm of the judiciary was absurd.” “He should not have been appointed to such a position,” said Aleksanian. “He has a very bad biography.” Jahangirian was appointed as a member of the SJC in January 2021 by the Armenian parliament controlled by Pashinian’s Civil Contract party. Lawmakers representing the party remained reluctant on Friday to comment on the audio scandal and the resulting calls for Jahangirian’s resignation. Opposition leaders have portrayed the recording as further proof of their claims that Western-backed “judicial reforms” declared by Pashinian’s administration are in fact aimed at increasing government influence on Armenian courts. In a statement issued earlier this week, the main opposition Hayastan alliance urged the U.S. and European Union ambassadors in Yerevan to comment on the scandal and say whether they still support the stated reforms. Taguhi Tovmasian, the chairwoman of the Armenian parliament’s human rights committee affiliated with another opposition group, said on Friday that she has sent the transcript of the recording to international organizations for the same purpose. Tovmasian said she asked them to answer the following question: “How can the Supreme Judicial Council interfere in any criminal case for political considerations in a country that has declared itself democratic?” Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2022 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.