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Armenian Government’s Pick For Constitutional Court Criticized


Armenia - Vahram Avetisian, Yerevan, July 23, 2020.

Relatives of protesters killed during the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan and supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian have deplored the Armenian government’s choice of a candidate to replace one of the three Constitutional Court judges controversially dismissed last month.

The government formally nominated Vahram Avetisian, a senior law professor at Yerevan State University (YSU), to the court last week and expects the Armenian parliament to confirm him in the coming weeks. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc enjoys a comfortable majority in the National Assembly.

Eight relatives of the unrest victims and 50 current and former activists imprisoned during the 2008 crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition issued at the weekend a joint petition urging the government to withdraw Avetisian’s nomination.

In particular, the signatories, among them several senior members of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) party, argued that his father, Davit Avetisian, upheld prison sentences handed to opposition members and supporters when he served as a senior Court of Cassation judge from 2008-2016.

They said that Vahram Avetisian cannot act independently and impartially also because he has never publicly condemned Armenia’s former ruling regime and its use of force against protesters who challenged the official results of the February 2008 presidential election in which Ter-Petrosian was the main opposition candidate.

One of the signatories, Grigor Voskerchian, is a member of the HAK’s governing board who was arrested in 2008 and spent 18 months in prison. “My personal interest is to see an independent person elected to the Constitutional Court,” he said.

“If [Avetisian] is appointed a Constitutional Court judge he will definitely deal with some issues related to his father,” Voskerchian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. “If he doesn’t want to bear responsibility for [decisions made by] his father he should make a statement.”

Avetisian dismissed the objections to his candidacy on Sunday, saying that they are fuelled by individuals motivated by their “parochial and factional interests.” In a Facebook post, the nominee said he finds it “pointless” to argue with them.

Responding to the criticism, Pashinian’s press secretary, Mane Gevorgian, said the government’s decision to pick Avetisian was based on his professional background and track record. “Mr. Avetisian’s candidacy will be discussed in the National Assembly, and deputies will have a chance to ask all questions preoccupying the public and receive answers to them from Mr. Avetisian,” said Gevorgian.

Lilit Makunts, My Step’s parliamentary leader, said she and other pro-government lawmakers will likely meet Avetisian next week and ask him to set the record straight. Makunts stressed at the same time that Avetisian has “no direct connection” with any of the politically motivated court verdicts stemming from the 2008 bloodshed and arrests.

Pashinian played a key role in Ter-Petrosian’s 2007-2008 opposition movement and was among the ex-president’s political allies imprisoned in the post-election crackdown. He fell out with Ter-Petrosian after being released from jail in 2011.

President Armen Sarkissian and an assembly of Armenia’s judges are due to name two other nominees for the Constitutional Court.

The parliament approved last month constitutional amendments calling the gradual resignation of seven of the court’s nine members installed before April 2018. Three of them are to resign with immediate effect. Also, Hrayr Tovmasian must quit as court chairman but remain a judge.

Tovmasian and the ousted judges have refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal. They have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.

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