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Head Of Judicial Watchdog Under Fire From Ruling Bloc


Armenia -- Ruben Vartazarian, head of the Supreme Judicial Council, holds a news conference in Yerevan, September 4, 2019.

The head of a state body empowered to nominate, sanction and fire Armenian judges faced a barrage of strong criticism from pro-government lawmakers for a second consecutive day on Wednesday.

Ruben Vartazarian, the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), was put on the defensive as he asked the National Assembly to confirm two new senior judges nominated by the SJC.

During a question-and-answer session that began on Tuesday, deputies representing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc ignored the nominations and accused Vartazarian of effectively siding with the Armenian opposition. They pointed to a November 15 statement in which Vartazarian urged judges to prove that they are “honest professionals,” rather than “judges whimpering under walls.”

Pashinian lambasted unnamed “whimpering” judges in 2019 when he accused the Armenian judiciary of maintaining ties with the country’s former leadership.

The My Step deputies charged that with his controversial statement Vartazarian encouraged courts to hand down anti-government rulings.

One of those lawmakers, Hayk Gevorgian, noted that the courts refused to sanction the arrest of individuals charged with breaking into Armenia’s main state buildings and ransacking them immediately after a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10.

Armenia -- Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc attend a session of the Armenian parliament, Yerevan, January 22, 2021.
Armenia -- Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc attend a session of the Armenian parliament, Yerevan, January 22, 2021.

Vartazarian insisted that he did not issue any politically motivated orders to courts.

“It was a call for restraint and soberness,” he said. “I reacted to an offensive political statement.”

“I called on my colleagues to refrain from making any political decisions in favor of the government, the opposition or civil society and to be guided only by the law,” Vartazarian told another parliamentarian.

In recent months, Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement authorities to arrest dozens of opposition leaders and members as well as other anti-government activists. Virtually all of those individuals are prosecuted in connection with street protests sparked by the Pashinian administration’s handling of the Karabakh war.

Pashinian claimed in December that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a “pseudo-elite” which is trying to topple him after the disastrous war. Vartazarian rejected the criticism.

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