BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday staged a press briefing that at its conclusion—having clocked in more than five hours—did little to settle some of the key issues his administration has been advancing during the past several months.
The briefing, which was held in the city of Kapan, began with Pashinyan presenting “100 Facts About New Armenia”—the third of such presentations designed to tout the accomplishments of his government—that consisted mainly of rote statistics on how Armenia has improved in comparison to the past year, and of course since the “2018 Velvet Revolution.” The “100 Facts” did not contain any mention of the reforms the government has been promising since the “2018 Velvet Revolution.”
Sparks began to fly, however, when reporters started asking questions, one of which centered on the government’s standoff with the head of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan, which presumably can be filed under the government’s judicial reform agenda.
Tovmasyan was charged last month with two counts of abuse of power. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service is alleging that Tovmasyan used his position to privatize an office in Yerevan when he served as justice minister from 2010-2014. It said that in 2012 he also forced state notaries subordinate to the Justice Ministry to rent other offices de facto belonging to him at inflated prices.
Tovmasyan became the target of the ruling My Step party last year when pledges to reform Armenia’s judicial sector crescendoed when courts, including the Constitutional Court, did not deliver favorable rulings in the government’s case against former president Robert Kocharian, who is charged with breaching Armenia’s Constitution in relation with the March 1, 2008 event. Pashinyan went on national television to outline his wish list for judicial reforms and later called on masses to block the entrances of Armenia’s courts, which did not get the anticipated traction from the people. This fall, the majority My Step faction in parliament passed legislation to remove Tovmasyan from his post.
During Saturday’s marathon press briefing and in response to a reporter’s question, Pashinyan lambasted Tovmasyan claiming that the Constitutional Court chairman had “offered his services” following the “2018 Velvet Revolution.” Pashinyan said that because he did not want to cooperate with “representatives of the corrupt former regime” he had rejected Tovmasyan’s offer.
An angry Tovmasyan on Sunday called on Pashinyan to present “credible evidence” and threatened legal action against the prime minister. In what has become governing via social media, Pashinyan promised a “disproportionately strong response” to Armenia’s chief justice by posting on Facebook a photograph of an expensive pen, which the prime minister said Tovmasyan gave him during the 2018 meeting of the Armenia Fund board in Yerevan to show his allegiance to the new head of state.
When Tovmasyan’s attorney announced that he was preparing to file a defamation suit in response to Pashinyan’s post, the prime minister, this time in a Facebook Live post, accused Tovmasyan of being a part of what he called a “hybrid” plot to overthrow the government.
I am not saying that the charges against Tovmasyan are bogus, nor am I saying he does not have to be removed from office. However, the prime minister and the chief justice engaging in a public throw down—with a Montblanc pen as the proverbial “smoking gun”—minimizes the imperative for critical judicial reforms in Armenia, not to mention the separation of powers that has been a focal point of Pashinyan’s agenda.
About 10 minutes before the conclusion of the five-plus-hour press briefing, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation became the subject of discussion, when a reporter’s out of the blue question about the party, prompted Pashinyan to weigh in about the ARF’s internal decision making process (watch below).
The reporter’s out of context question focused on Pashinyan’s and his My Step’s continued efforts to differentiate between the party’s Armenia organization and Diaspora entities.
Pashinyan was quick to note that his government does not have enmity toward the ARF, charging, however, that ARF members who have expressed opposition to his education minister are those with “ties to former corrupt authorities.”
He went on to assure the reporters that his government has strong ties with the traditional Armenian political parties, saying he shared “a warm and fraternal” relationship with the said parties’ leaders in the Diaspora.
“Sometimes you get the impression that there is conflict between the Armenian government and the ARF. The entire ARF as a party cannot be judged on the same level, because I am under the impression that the Armenian government and the ARF have great potential and willingness to cooperate on national issues. At least we have that willingness,” said Pashinyan who felt compelled to respond to the reporter’s question, which one who has observed these events for the better part of over two decades can surmise is either a planted query or aimed at eliciting controversy.
“I am convinced that we will be able to start a constructive dialogue together with the ARF, as a national entity,” said Pashinyan who said he believes that if leadership changes within ARF Armenia’s structure do not take place “the fate—the political future—of the ARF in Armenia will be quite hazy.”
Pashinyan must know, or if he doesn’t he should understand, that no one dictates who leads the ARF in Armenia or elsewhere, aside from the party’s members.
No one disputes that Armenia was governed by one corrupt regime after another, beginning with Levon Ter-Petrosian and ending with Serzh Sarkisian. We have all seen the stranglehold the successive regimes have had on the people, while usurping Armenia’s national wealth. No one also disputes that those who have had a leading role in advancing the crooked regimes must be brought to justice. That is why the “2018 Velvet Revolution” became that ray of hope not just for the people of Armenia but Armenians around the world and a golden opportunity for our nation to collectively work together to advance and strengthen Armenia—the homeland.
However, almost two years since the popular movement that toppled the corrupt regime, the critical reforms that were promised have yet to see the light of day. Instead we see a social media-centric show unfold in front of our eyes and on a daily basis that not only is not entertaining but it also does inspire hope that the systemic changes that Armenia needs to prosper, develop and advance as a strong homeland for all Armenians will materialize.