The National Security Service (NSS) interrogated Hrayr Tovmasian’s father and two daughters on Friday one day after another law-enforcement agency launched separate criminal proceedings against the embattled chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
The NSS said it decided to seek “explanations” from his close relatives and other individuals during “the preparation of materials” for a potential investigation. It gave no other details in a short statement issued amid opposition allegations that the Armenian government is targeting Tovmasian’s family as part of its efforts to force him to resign.
A lawyer for the family, Hayk Sargsian, said NSS officers asked Tovmasian’s daughters questions mainly relating to their assets, notably a car and a garage which they received as a gift from a cousin who emigrated to the United States in 2016.
Sargsian said they also inquired about another car which one of the young women owned until donating it to Nagorno-Karabakh’s army around the same time. Neither woman was asked questions about her father’s activities, he told reporters after the interrogations.
Tovmasian’s father Vartan was questioned at the NSS headquarters in downtown Yerevan earlier in the day. According to his lawyer, Amram Makinian, NSS officers asked him questions about the roof of his one-story house located in a village near Yerevan. In particular, he said, they wondered when it was repaired and who financed that work. The 75-year-old told them that he fixed the roof at his own expense and with the help of his neighbors, added the lawyer.
NSS officers already visited and talked to Vartan Tovmasian at his home in the village of Darakert on Thursday. He said they were mainly interested in the house roof.
The NSS sent summonses to Tovmasian’s father and daughters as Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) launched a criminal inquiry into a possible “usurpation of power” by the Constitutional Court chairman and former senior officials.
Such an inquiry was demanded by a lawmaker who alleged recently that Tovmasian colluded with key members of Armenia’s former leadership to illegally become head of the court in March 2018. The SIS has not charged anyone so far. Under Armenian law, Tovmasian cannot be prosecuted without the consent of at least five of the nine Constitutional Court justices.
Seven of those judges issued on Friday a joint statement saying that they are “monitoring developments relating to Hrayr Tovmasian and members of his family and will react if need be.”
The Constitutional Court refused to oust its chairman as recently as on Tuesday. The Armenian parliament called for his dismissal in an October 4 appeal to the court drafted by its majority loyal to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The parliament accused Tovmasian of mishandling appeals lodged by the arrested former President Robert Kocharian. It also cited his past membership in the former ruling Republican Party (HHK).
Opposition politicians and other critics claim that Pashinian’s government is now using law-enforcement bodies in its efforts to force Tovmasian to step down. Several dozen of them, including senior HHK figures, rallied outside the NSS building in downtown during Friday’s interrogations.
“The only state structure which more or less protects the constitution and serves the Republic of Armenia, rather than Nikol Pashinian’s regime, is the Constitutional Court,” claimed Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman. “What is happening now is [the result of] a fabricated political order.”
“It emerged yesterday that our authorities took a step, which is at odds with not only the rule of law but also morality, in order to achieve their political objective of getting rid of Hrayr Tovmasian,” said Ruben Melikian, a lawyer and Karabakh’s former human rights ombudsman.
Pashinian’s political allies strongly denied, however, that Tovmasian is persecuted for political reasons.
“I can understand representatives of the rejected [former] authorities,” said Vahagn Hovakimian, a parliament deputy from the ruling My Step bloc. “They see things within the bounds of their mental horizon, namely [imagine] what they themselves had done.”
“Nobody is subjected to political persecution,” Hovakimian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He argued that relatives of Armenian state officials do not have legal immunity from prosecution.
Tovmasian himself has not yet commented on the latest developments. He claimed on October 2 that the authorities want to force him out in order to gain control over Armenia’s highest court.