Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Monday, June 20, 2022.
I’m Asbed Bedrossian, here with Hovik Manucharyan.
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Here are the major topics we’ll touch on today:
● Did the Opposition Blink?
● Scandal in the SJC
● More “Peace” Talks, More Border Shootings
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Tevan Poghosyan, who is president of the International Center for Human Development. Mr. Poghosyan was an MP in the National Assembly between 2012 and 2017 from the Heritage party. From 1997 to 1999 he served as the Nagorno-Karabakh Public Affairs Office Director in Washington, D.C.
So on Tuesday of this past week, the leaders of the opposition announced some “tactical changes” to the daily protests in Yerevan which have gone on since the beginning of May.
I think that if you look at the protest movement, they had plateaued and were getting a certain daily mass of participants, but it was not enough to put it over certain barriers to cause the change they wanted.
So to my understanding, the movement has removed all the tents in France Square, they’ve gone from daily to weekly marches and rallies, targeting Fridays or Saturdays, and also making the protest leadership available for people to meet and greet and discuss on Wednesdays at France Square.
But there are other structural changes to the movement itself.
Tevan let’s do a review and outlook on the leadership of the movement:
● What has the movement achieved to date?
● What are the failures of the movement to date?
● What are the structural changes the movement is implementing?
● Organizing in the Marzes
● Building a platform
● Targeting Pashinyan’s resignation, regime change
Today, Monday June 20, deposed chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Ruben Vardazaryan and his lawyer, released a scandalous recording that is sure to generate a political tsunami for Nikol Pashinyan and his team.
which Vardazaryan said was made on Feb. 20, 2021, and whose authenticity has
not been confirmed yet, is mainly between Ruben Vardazaryan (then chairman of
the Supreme Judicial Council) and Gagik Jhangiryan (former chief prosecutor and
close associate of LTP). A third SJC member, Stepan Mikaelyan
(who is also the president of the Court of Cassations of Armenia) was also
present and acting as a middle man.
While only 14 minutes was released (out of a total of 2+ hours of recording claimed by Vardazaryan), there are many implications:
● First, it casts into doubt the independence of the prosecution in Armenia, since a voice that sounds like Gagik Jhangiryan in the audio is heard gloating that he is able to stop certain cases from being investigated.
● Second, it casts into doubt the independence of the Constitutional Court in Armenia, Jhangiryan’s voice appears to indicate that the effort to remove three “reform” the constitutional court was done in similar vein, to tilt the court for political purposes.
● Third, it casts into doubt the independence of the Supreme Judicial Council itself since there’s evidence that the SJC, through administrative tricks, attempted to delay or invalidate a hearing where this evidence was going to be presented.
● It basically paints a picture that the executive body in Armenia, in this case Prime Minister Pashinyan, is able to get the silence or subservience of key people in the judicial and law enforcement systems of Armenia, with apparent ease.
Some background on the key players, to set the context of this scandal:.
● SJC: The Supreme Judicial Council, a constitutional body formed out of the 2015 Armenian constitution, is tasked with guaranteeing the unrestricted implementation of the judicial system. It currently consists of 5 “academician judges” or distinguished members, elected by the national assembly (Jahangiryan came in through this route). It also consists of five experienced judges, elected by the general assembly of judges in Armenia.
● Ruben Vardazaryan, at the time of the recording, was the chairman of SJC. He was appointed to the position in July 2019, so after the 2018 change of power. Vardazaryan became a target of Nikol Pashinyan’s regime after November 15, 2020 (5 days after signing of the capitulation). At that time, in a call to judges, he urged them to be true to their oath and to stay away from any kind of political pressure and influence. This call, and especially the timing of it, was seen as an act of insubordination by Pashinyan and since then the Pashinyan regime has been pursuing Vardazaryan through multiple criminal cases. This recording was done in February 2021 when it was already public knowledge that there were criminal cases against Vardazaryan. By April 2021, Vardazaryan’s powers as SJC chairperson were terminated and Gagik Jhangiryan became the acting chairman of the SJC. Media reported that despite the ongoing criminal case, which seems to be going forward very slowly if at all, there is still pressure against Vardazaryan to officially resign in order to allow for Jhangiryan to formally take the position.
● Gagik Jhangiryan was in the law enforcement system of Armenia since the early 1990s. From 1996 until 2006 he was the Chief Military Prosecutor of Armenia and Deputy Prosecutor General. From 2006 - 2008 he relinquished the role of military prosecutor and stayed as the Deputy Prosecutor General of Armenia.
○ In 1996, Jhangiryan gained notoriety in allegations that he was one of the core members of the Levon Ter-Petrosyan team tasked with falsifying those elections. He denies these allegations.
○ After the terrorist events in the Armenian parliament in 1999, Jhangiryan’s was one of the 5 names presented in an ultimatum to Robert Kocharyan, which demanded that Jhangiryan be named as prosecutor general. Jhangiryan oversaw the prosecution of the October 27 case and was notoriously accused of torturing witnesses to extract potentially fake testimony. We all know where that case went.
○ After the 2008 elections, he became opposition and was prosecuted by the government of Serzh Sargyan for his involvement in the riots. He was later exonerated by the ECHR of charges against him in a precedent setting case, where the sole testimony from a police officer is insufficient for conviction.
○ In 2012, he became an MP under Armenian National Congress and in the same faction as Nikol Pashinyan.
○ Since 2013, Jhangiryan was in retirement until January 2021, when Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party nominated him for a position on the Supreme Judicial Council, despite him being over the maximum age of 65 for judges as defined in Armenian jurisdiction. That particular case, of whether he was qualified to be appointed, is currently being heard by the Constitutional Court.
In essence, Jhangiryan is seen as one of the key anti-Kocharyan personas in Armenia and trusted by Nikol Pashinyan since the days when they were on the same team.
On Feb. 20, 2021, the political climate in Armenia was very turbulent. In just 5 days (on Feb. 25), Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan, backed by many senior army officials, would make a call for Pashinyan to resign.
The segment of the recording released appears to show Jhangiryan trying to persuade Vardazaryan to resign, and he seems to hint that criminal charges against him will be dropped. However, if he doesn’t comply within a certain deadline, then Jhangiryan says he can’t be held responsible for the subsequent processes. When Vardazaryan counters that this sounds like a threat and what exactly would happen if he doesn’t comply, Jhangiryan seems to say different things, such as “if you want to serve jail time, then be my guest” or “do you really need this, you have family, kids”.
The voice, allegedly that of Jhangiryan, also casually mentions that he really doesn't want to see “bad things” happen to Vardazaryan, pointing to the state of the constitutional court judges. But if things come to that, then the speaker said he is resolved to see things come through because this is a task that has been “placed on his neck” and he sees it as part of his debt to do it.
When Vardazaryan asked Jhangiryan why he’s doing this, Jhangiryan countered that he doesn’t want to see Robert Kocharyan, addressing him with vulgar homophobic slurs, come to power.
As we recall, in May 2020 Pashinyan triggered snap parliamentary elections by resigning, as part of an agreement with the opposition of that time (Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia).
Tevan, you have previously worked with Jhangiryan on the State and Legal Affairs Standing Committee in parliament, I believe in 2013.
● What are your impressions about this leak?
● Do you have any doubts about its authenticity?
The Hayastan Dashinq claims that this is further proof that the June 2021 election results were fixed by the government.
● What would be the mechanism by which this would be the case?
It seems that every time there is a threatening speech by Ilham Aliyev, it is followed by an escalation on the Armenian border. On June 15, Pashinyan made another outrageous speech in parliament. Then on June 17, Aliyev in his speech at the Global Baku Forum seemed to address some of Pashinyan’s statements. On June 18, there was an incident on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan near Vardenis and a 19-year-old serviceman was killed.
Let’s begin with Pashinyan’s speech in Parliament. It was nearly a half-hour speech with content that unfortunately has become too familiar to us. We probably don’t have time to go over all of it, but he again made several contentious points, including:
● That Armenia has recognized Azerbaijan's territorial integrity in 1992 as part of creating the CIS.
● … by accepting the Madrid principles Armenia's former leadership has excluded Artsakh's status as an independent state.
What is the read on Pashinyan’s speech?
Aliyev’s speech was mostly threats against Armenia if the latter doesn’t choose “peace”, which according to Aliyev (and maybe Pashinyan?) means total capitulation.
Besides his usual repertoire about the so-called “Zangezur corridor”, Aliyev’s speech also contained warnings to Armenia against bringing up the status of Artsakh in negotiations. Aliyev specifically said that there is a verbal agreement with Pashinyan about this.
Aliyev also said that if Armenia dares to question Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, then this would be reciprocated by Azerbaijan challenging Armenia’s territorial integrity over Armenia (specifically he mentioned Syunik, but Aliyev has even claimed Yerevan as Azerbaijani).
Does this explain Yerevan’s official position so far, where emphasis is put on guarantees of rights rather than status?
Mirzoyan response to Aliyev: Karabakh issue still exists.
Is Aliyev in his groove?
On June 18, in an escalation on the border near Vardenis, 19-year-old conscript Hrach Piliposyan gave his life protecting the border. He succumbed to wounds from gunshots by the enemy. Eternal glory to Hrach and our heroes.
The Ministry of Defense promised to release more details, but 48 hours after it happened, still not a peep.
● Why isn’t the MOD trying to manage the information disclosure?
● How can an Armenian officer or general have made the decision that the best thing to do is to stay silent?
Relatives of Civil Contract MP (Matevos Asatryan) and deputy governor of Aragatsotn region (Edgar Parvanyan) shoot at youths who were insulting Pashinyan with automatic weapons, according to Politik.am. According to the police, there are 7 victims and at least one death, possibly more.
What’s interesting is that there are discrepancies between the police description and what’s reported:
● “Domestic” unrest
● Hunting rifle
Is there a police or government cover up?
That was our Week in Review show, and we hope it helped you catch up with some of the issues in and around Armenia from this past week. As always, we invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org.
Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube, Like our pages and follow us on social media. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Tevan Poghosyan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev, Ruben Vardazaryan, Gagik Jhangiryan, Supreme Judicial Court, Yerevan Protests, Hayastan Dashinq, Armenia Alliance, Vardenis, Border, Border Shootings, Agenda of Peace, Peace Negotiations, South Caucasus,