Vahe Grigorian, a newly elected Constitutional Court judge, declared on Thursday that he can now also act as chairman of Armenia’s highest court.
Grigorian challenged the legitimacy of Hrayr Tovmasian, the court chairman since March 2018, and six other members of the nine-strong body as he was sworn in during a session of the Armenian parliament, which elected him on Tuesday.
Addressing lawmakers, Grigorian argued that under constitutional amendments which took effect last year the Constitutional Court now consists of “judges,” rather than “members,” as was the case until then. He said that only he and Arman Dilanian, who was elected by the parliament last year, can therefore serve as judges and make decisions.
“The Constitutional Court comprises solely judges and only judges take part in its decision making,” Grigorian said, suggesting that the six other officials have no such authority.
Grigorian added that since Dilanian is absent from Armenia at the moment he is single-handedly “taking over the powers and duties of the Constitutional Court chairman.”
The statement clearly took many lawmakers by surprise. Vladimir Hakobian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, pointedly declined to comment on it.
But Nikolay Baghdasarian, another pro-government parliamentarian, effectively backed Grigorian’s claims.
“My view is that after hearing Vahe Grigorian’s speech Hrayr Tovmasian must not go to work tomorrow morning because he realized that he is no longer the chairman of the Constitutional Court,” said Baghdasarian.
But Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, disagreed with this interpretation of the amended constitution. He said the amendments cannot have a retroactive impact on Tovmasian and the six other court members.
The latter did not immediately react to Grigorian’s declaration. The Constitutional Court’s updated website on Thursday continued to refer to Tovmasian as the chairman of the court.
Grigorian’s appointment to a vacant seat in the court was backed by 99 lawmakers and opposed by 22 others in secret ballot. Some opposition lawmakers questioned Grigorian’s impartiality, citing his warm relations with the country’s current leadership. The nominee admitted having “friends” in the ruling My Step alliance but insisted that this fact will not influence his judicial activities.