The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasian, on Friday rejected as offensive and baseless harsh criticism of him voiced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
In an interview with Tert.am, Tovmasian also warned the Armenian government against trying to force him and other members of the court to resign, saying that such pressure would be a criminal offense.
Pashinian launched a scathing attack on the Constitutional Court and Tovmasian in particular, in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday. He accused Tovmasian of cutting political deals with former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the country’s highest court through constitutional amendments that took effect in April 2018. Pashinian said one of those amendments was designed to let Tovmasian remain court chairman until 2035.
“The Constitutional Court must get out of this status of a privatized booth,” the premier said, implicitly demanding changes in the court’s composition.
Tovmasian dismissed these comments as a “textbook example of how one must not speak of one of the four country’s four constitutional bodies.”
“In administering justice, the chairman of the Constitutional Court has exactly as much authority as every other member of the court and such a statement [by Pashinian] is, first and foremost, an insult to the court’s other members,” he said.
“Let me ask a rhetorical question,” Tovmasian went on. “Have you, the country’s prime minister, president, parliament speaker or other countries’ judges appealed to that ‘privatized booth’ on dozens of occasions? Have the Venice Commission or the chairpersons of several countries’ constitutional courts built relations with that ‘booth?’”
Tovmasian was also asked to comment on pro-opposition media claims that the government is keen to force him and other court members appointed under Armenia’s previous governments into resignation through pressure that will be exerted on them by law-enforcement bodies. He described those allegations as “rumors hanging in the air.”
“If these rumors are ever confirmed … that is very dangerous and everyone who has acted for that purpose will be held accountable regardless of the position held by them,” Tovmasian warned.
Tovmasian served as a senior lawmaker representing Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) before Armenia’s HHK-controlled former parliament installed him as court chairman in March 2018. Sarkisian resigned in April 2018 after his controversial attempt to extend his decade-long rule sparked mass protests led by Pashinian.
Pashinian on Wednesday also signaled support for Vahe Grigorian, the Constitutional Court’s newest judge elected by the current parliament. Grigorian has challenged the legitimacy of Tovmasian and six other members of the tribunal appointed before the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018.
Grigorian claimed last month that only he and another judge of the 9-member court, Arman Dilanian, can make valid decisions because they were elected after the constitutional changes came into force last year. He argued that the under the amended constitution the Constitutional Court now consists of “judges,” rather than “members,” as was the case until April 2018. He said that the seven other members therefore cannot be considered “judges.”
The eight other members of the Constitutional Courts, including Dilanian, dismissed the claims in a joint statement. Tovmasian reiterated on Friday that “there is no constitutional crisis” in Armenia.