The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasian, said on Thursday that he will not resign despite having his legitimacy challenged by the court’s newest judge and the ruling My Step alliance.
The judge, Vahe Grigorian, claims that only he and another judge of the 9-member court, Arman Dilanian, can make valid decisions because they were appointed after constitutional amendments which took effect last year. Citing the amended constitution, Grigorian says the Constitutional Court now consists only of “judges” and does not comprise Tovmasian and six other “members” appointed before April 2018.
In a joint statement issued last week, the seven members as well as Dilanian dismissed Grigorian’s “peculiar interpretations” of the constitution and said they “cannot have any legal consequences.”
Tovmasian referred to that statement when he was asked by journalists to comment on the dispute. “There is no situation, no problem that needs to be resolved,” he said. “I don’t see a problem. If I don’t see a problem I can’t speak of solutions.”
Grigorian elaborated on his claims in a lengthy letter to Armenia’s government, parliament and top judicial officials publicized on June 28. He urged them to help resolve the “crisis” and proposed three different solutions, including the election of seven new Constitutional Court judges by the National Assembly. None of those state institutions has officially replied to Grigorian’s letter so far.
Echoing statements by other political allies of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a senior My Step lawmaker, Vahagn Hovakimian, effectively sided with Grigorian on Thursday. He said that Tovmasian and the six other court members are now in a legally “vulnerable” position.
“From the standpoint of the public and many lawyers, they can no longer make decisions on constitutional justice in the name of the Republic of Armenia,” Hovakimian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
But Gevorg Petrosian, a senior lawmaker representing the main opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), continued to strongly disagree with such statements. “That letter [by Grigorian] must be folded as a relic and put aside,” he said. “There is no legal dispute here. There is a political one.”
Petrosian has repeatedly argued that an article of the amended constitution makes it clear that the Constitutional Court members appointed before 2018 can serve as judges until they turn 65.
Grigorian’s claims were also dismissed as “nonsensical” by Davit Harutiunian, a former justice minister affiliated with the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“Even if I say that earth is flat that won’t bring about a crisis,” said Harutiunian. “What would I do if someone appealed to me with a proposal which I find nonsensical? Nothing.”
Tovmasian, who will turn 49 next week, was a senior lawmaker representing the former ruling party until Armenia’s former parliament controlled by the HHK appointed him as Constitutional Court chairman in March 2018. He is also one of the main authors of sweeping constitutional changes which former President Serzh Sarkisian controversially enacted in 2015.