On May 19, 2019, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on his Facebook page that starting from 8:30 a.m. the next day, people must block entrances and exits to all courthouses across the country without exception. In an earlier post he had written that at noon the following day, he will announce the start of the second, most important stage of the revolution and that he expects the support of the people.
The High-Profile Case That Sparked Tensions in the Country
A day earlier, on May 18, Armenia's second President Robert Kocharyan was released from pre-trial detention by a court in Yerevan. The former president is accused of overthrowing constitutional order in relation to the events of March 1, 2008, when security forces cracked down on protesters leading to clashes that left 10 people dead. On May 17, the current and former presidents of Artsakh traveled to Yerevan, appearing in court to provide personal guarantees for Kocharyan to be released pending his trial.
In what appears to be the result of the developments of May 19-20, the judge in the trial of Robert Kocharyan and others (former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, former Chief of the General Staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces Yuri Khachaturov and Kocharyan’s former Chief-of-Staff Armen Gevorgyan) has suspended the proceedings and applied to the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the article pertaining to charges against the men of overthrowing constitutional order.
- Following his Facebook post, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan goes live to address the nation regarding his call to block all courthouses.
Below is an unofficial translation of his address:
I know many might find the subject I’m going to talk about a little inappropriate. I know many of you might be upset, angry to some extent, but I want to underscore one thing: In these last months, especially days, there has been much criticism of the velvet, the love, the whole vocabulary associated with the revolution of love and solidarity, but I would like to remind you that in whatever we do, the tools and the logic of our actions have not changed.
I would like to remind you that everything has to take place within the logic of the non-violent, democratic, Velvet Revolution and in this action (blocking the entrances and exits of courts) there should be no hint of violence and giving into manipulations should be excluded. Of course the police is obligated to be there tomorrow and that is my order as well. The police will guarantee the safety of the citizens’ peaceful protest.
We have excluded violence from our country, but I see that there are people who still think they can solve their issues through violence, there might as well be courts that support those people. And I want to remind everyone that the political fight that rules out violence is of principle importance to us and it is the guarantor of our victory.
Nothing will keep us from reaching our goals. Nothing will divert us from the path of making Armenia a truly free, truly democratic, truly legal state.
I consider myself responsible before all of you and I will continue on this path till the end. And as long as the people trust me, as long as the people delegate me to serve them I will provide that service to them in full. I only ask that there be reciprocal respect and not to give in to any instigation.
Tomorrow, starting 8:30 a.m., we block all the entrances and exits to all of the Republic’s courthouses. No one will go in or out and tomorrow at noon, I will try to give the answers to all the questions that you have. Tomorrow after my address I will also talk about what we plan to do in the future. The address will take place at the Government (building). I have invited a number of high-ranking officials for a consultation to discuss the current situation and the future plan of action.
Do not think that I have second guessed anything during this time or that I have lacked resolve. I know this might not be very understandable to many, and not everyone agrees with it, but I quite often like to give a chance to others (until the last minute) to act without my interference, without the people’s interference, but when I see that this possibility is exhausted already, then we need to act and we need to act in a way that is true to the essence of the Armenian Constitution, as we have acted before (but now I’m delving into tomorrow’s address). We should act in accordance to international law (rights) and our final goal should be to have a truly independent judiciary. I believe in the ideals of our revolution and I believe we will achieve those ideals.
-Armenia's Human Rights Ombudsman issues a statement regarding the Prime Minister's call to the people:
Arman Tatoyan, Armenia's Human Rights Ombudsman said that the implementation of state power in the Republic of Armenia shall be guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and laws, and based upon the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers. He noted that each official representative of those powers has the responsibility to act with respect to one another and within the imperative and limits of their status. His statement goes on to say that interference in the activities of the courts and the exercise of justice by them in the Republic of Armenia shall be prohibited.
The requirement of effective judicial power in the country implies full independence of the court and the judge, and must be protected from the legislative and executive branches including any other body or official that may obstruct the court's activities. Tatoyan said that the courts are called to guarantee the country's legal security and the legal system's stability. Their activities are aimed at ensuring the unimpeded protection of human rights.
The Ombudsman noted that there are indeed issues with the judiciary, with the independence of the court, the lack of people’s trust towards the system and problems with the assurance of fair trials. He also noted that complaints submitted to his office attest to the fact that there are cases when judges, with their behavior, damage the independence of the judiciary. He noted that these issues have not been addressed properly and that his office has reported on these in the past. However, these challenges must be met within the law.
He noted that the PM's call is extremely dangerous for the stability and security of Armenia's legal system.
- Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian issues a statement regarding the call by the Prime Minister.
The following is an unofficial translation of that statement:
That democratic processes are irreversible in the Republic of Armenia, should not be put into doubt by anyone, not in Armenia or outside of its borders.
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, power belongs to the people. Consequently, the branches of the Armenian government, legislative, executive and judicial must reflect the collective will of the people of Armenia and serve their constitutional objectives. Therefore, I urge all citizens of Armenia, regardless of their social and political position and office, to maintain tranquility and calm, to preserve the Constitution and the laws.
Although currently on a working visit abroad, I am in touch with the relevant state bodies.
I urge that restraint and tolerance be dominant these days.
God protect us all.
- The Supreme Judicial Council of Armenia holds an extraordinary session late in the evening to discuss the situation regarding the call by the country’s Prime Minister to block courthouses around the country.
The following is an unofficial translation:
The Council has registered that an advisory meeting to discuss the fundamental issues of judiciary reform with the RA prime minister had already been scheduled for May 20 at 12:00. Taking into consideration that it has been confirmed that the above mentioned meeting will take place with the participation of the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the council has decided:
1) To express a comprehensive stance on the situation during the session following the consultation meeting.
2) Finding the disruption of the normal functioning of the courts unacceptable, the Council calls on judges and all employees of the judiciary to demonstrate utmost restraint, to act exclusively within the legal framework.
- A number of parliamentary factions, political parties, organizations and others issue statements condemning Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s announcement and call for restraint:
The Chamber of Advocates of Armenia issues a statement urging the executive power to refrain from actions that may jeopardize the independence of the judiciary or be perceived as an interference with the administration of justice. The Chamber expressed concern that PM Nikol Pashinyan’s call would violate Armenia’s Constitution, international laws and treaties. The statement cites Article 162 of the RA Constitution which states that justice is exercised only by the courts and any interference in the administration of justice is prohibited.
Prosperous Armenia Party's political council released a statement about the blocking of the courthouses around the country. The party noted that they are keen to keep the constitutional order and lawfulness and are ready to discuss the serious problems in the judicial system. They call to refrain from anti-constitutional steps that will affect Armenia’s international image risking economic development and the protection of human rights and the implementation of previously announced reforms.
They urged Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to cancel his call during the upcoming live at 12 pm, do not hinder the activities of the judiciary, to not endanger the country’s international image, to not divide society and together, with solidarity and mutual understanding, try to solve the real fundamental issues in the judicial system.
Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II has also issued a statement expressing his concern over the situation in Armenia during the past several hours. He said that strengthening democracy, human rights and legality in Armenia can only be maintained in the spirit of brotherhood and love. He also urged everyone to stay calm, avoid any form of violence, and address challenges through peace and national unity.
Bright Armenia Party said: "We urge the Prime Minister to reconsider his call to block entrances to the courthouses. This act disrupts the implementation of justice and the constitutional rights of the people. It is also a violation of internationally recognized human rights. We urge the Speaker of the National Assembly to convene an extraordinary session tomorrow [today] to discuss the current situation. At the same time, we reaffirm our readiness to support the institutional reform of the judiciary, which will result in a fully functioning and independent judiciary that enjoys the confidence of the people."
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), in a statement noted that the Prime Minister’s call to blockade the courts is a new challenge to the Armenian people living in war and peace, to the stability and security of the country and an injudicious step that will lead the country towards unprecedented challenges. The statement also urged people not to resort to provocations; to all political forces and civil society to support and promote the atmosphere of public solidarity in the country; to judges not to give in to pressures and to carry out their duties as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) said (referring to a number of articles of the RA Constitution and the Criminal Code), that the constitutional order, the principles of separation and balance of power, and the fundamental freedoms and rights of people are endangered in the country. The RPA said that it strongly condemns the unprecedented pressure exerted by the PM on the judicial system of Armenia. Their statement noted that this act will cause irrevocable damage to the rule of law and fair trial, damaging public solidarity and inciting intolerance and hate speech. The RPA calls on the public to refrain from participating in this “dangerous act,” and to the legal system to ensure the normal functioning of the rule of law within the framework of the Constitution.
- Prominent lawyer, Vahe Grigoryan, who represents the families of the victims of March 1, 2008 at the European Court of Human Rights writes a status on his Facebook page regarding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s call.
The following is a translation of Grigoryan’s statement:
The late night call by the Prime Minister of Armenia, according to which the entrances and exits of the courthouses should be blocked, may be unexpected for some. But not for me. During my public speeches for almost a year now, I have asked and called on the judicial power to respond to the changes taking place in the Republic, to reclaim itself in this new reality, and to immediately propose meaningful reform of the judiciary and a solution that smooths out past conundrums, or at the very least, offer an initiative of honest dialogue within the judicial power, between the three branches of power and civil society. I have also mentioned that silence is not a solution to this problem, rather it is a snowballing of its impact, because the executive and legislative authorities cannot cross their arms and wait for the self-destruction of the judicial power. And their intervention to prevent this cannot be or seem to be proportional, because that is the nature of things. The most optimal changes can take place only by the initiative of the judicial authority, which, unfortunately, is not only absent, but is deteriorating further. Simultaneously, the expectations from the executive and the legislative authorities, as well as from state/legal security considerations, will pressure them to intervene in this crisis. And in this moment, we are the cusp of this intervention.
This aforementioned call urged citizens to block the entrances and exits of the courthouses. How would I respond to this call? How do I understand it? I, as a free citizen of the RA, would stand in front of my preferred courthouse in the morning, and would greet whichever judge or member of staff that wished to enter the court building. And even if I did not have the opportunity to say this much, I would consider that he/she could read in my eyes that I know that he/she, or his colleague:
-Was a judge who jailed political prisoners. People, who should not have been in jail, but because of his or his colleague’s unrighteousness, have had their lives and their families’ lives wasted away in jail. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- Have brought Armenia to a situation where, for the first time in the world, the criteria of defining political prisoners has been created by referring to the situation in Armenia and the practice of political imprisonment. Again, for the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- For thousands of ordinary citizens like me, he has appropriated our homes to provide excessive profits for political and economic groups and the predators of the mining industry. For me and my family, homelessness, and for many of us, emigration. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- He freed murderers, and condemned others on fraudulent charges. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- He has deprived the businessman, the farmer, and the villager, who, like me, earn their daily living and pay for him - the judge - and his family through taxation, of the justice with which I stood before him in good faith, to the benefit of someone who has bought his honor and power by bribery and shaken my belief in the government, in justice, and in general, in humanity. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- By his actions and behavior, or that of his colleagues, a point has been reached where the call or warning of the highest official in executive power is considered by his fellow human rights defenders as pressure on him or his colleagues or his system. Without even acknowledging that there is nothing more demeaning for any judge than considering a call or a warning to be pressure. As if judges are fearful rabbits. Meanwhile, in society, they should have been the most prominent individuals with their courage and solid morals. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- He has sentenced ordinary citizens like me to seek the last hope of justice in the courtrooms of foreign judges, and even then I provide for him and his family and his colleague's families several guarantees that are absent for those in other professions. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
- In the judicial case of the son, of the father, and of the brother who were killed in non-combat situations during their military service in the defense of the Republic of Armenia, instead of being offered moral, legal and material satisfaction and prioritized implementation of justice according to the moral and legal guarantees on behalf of that same Republic, I have been condemned for decades to seek justice from international judges. For the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
Each of you can add whatever has happened to you, if you cannot find yourselves here.
And now, I am that Republic of Armenia, with others, like myself, standing next to me. And that I am standing here to have an honest conversation with him about what is going to happen today and tomorrow. And that in these last few decades, it is the first time that I have asked them to come and stand with me for a few hours, and talk with goodwill, and tell me the story of our common past, and his vision for our common future, waiting until we can together hear the anticipated statement.
I know, that in the judges there are people who have remained faithful to their oath. I will be looking for these people among those who come, because as the Republic of Armenia, I will be expecting an accelerated advancement of my high ranking servicemen, while remaining mindful that in the years of judicial darkness in Armenia, a fair judge must have the honor of a life sacrificing soldier.
I will not interfere in anyone’s course. If the judge, or a member of staff, nevertheless does not consider it to be honorable to stand in solidarity with me, a citizen, I will do everything to prevent anyone from laying a finger on him. Because for me, contrary to him, the Armenian Republic is not a means for self-affirmation or earning a livelihood without working. The Republic of Armenia is me. It is important that he understands that regardless of my treatment of him, I know that the judge’s robes, as a symbol of the Republic of Armenia, is inviolable for me, as are the flag, the coat of arms, and the shoulder stripes of the Republic of Armenia. If he thinks, that he has nothing to say to me, I will not stop him from getting to his destination. I will stand aside silently with those who think like me, opening a corridor to his workplace. And let this be his “silent corridor of shame.”
I will have hope that the judges will not choose the option of aversion or the “silent corridor of shame.” Rather, by using the opportunity to build a fair, effective, and authoritative justice system in Armenia with me, they will come to work on time, and will wait with me in the warmest of human relations and discussions for the statement by my N1 servant. I would not even turn down coffee in his office.
Why wait for his statement? Not because he is Nikol Pashinyan, or anyone else. Not because he is the Prime Minister. Not because he is my friend, my brother, or my opponent. But because he is the representative of the democratically and legitimately elected government that we had been waiting for over the last few decades. He is the executive servant who, with other executive and judicial servants, should solve the issue of putting an end to the privileged and satisfy those whose rights have been violated.
I will do everything to prove to those who thought I would release my decades of accumulated righteous wrath and anger down upon the judges that I have come instead to offer them unity and solidarity. Because my servants already have enough grounds to mercilessly implement the constitution and the rules on the judges, judging each according to his righteousness. And here, there is nothing left for me to do, it is their problem, let them bear it. It is I, as a citizen of Armenia, who can speak on their behalf, those who have stumbled, but have remained humanistic or at least that is what they promise.
I have hope that the representatives of the executive and legislative authorities in Armenia have the same intentions today, and that a new course of reforms will start in Armenia today.
This is the path. There is no other.
I wish you all a good and fruitful day.
At noon, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addresses the nation regarding his call.
Below is an unofficial translation of that speech:
In the last year, as you all know, political changes took place in Armenia as a result of which the country has formed a legitimate government that enjoys the trust of the people, executive power a National Assembly that has the trust of the people and is legitimate, in other words has legislative power.
However the developments of the last year have continuously shown that in the Republic of Armenia there is no judiciary that enjoys the trust of the people. The work of the judiciary has continuously raised waves of concern in society. I cannot and do not want to judge the legitimacy and the foundations of the decision made by the judiciary. To pass judgement on this is not in my mandate even though it is impossible to judge all the decisions of the judiciary through one prism and give them a proper evaluation. Despite everything, it is evident that the decisions of the judiciary are deeply mistrusted by society and I say this not only as prime minister, but a representative of the people of Armenia, who has the political right to talk in the name of the people from the position of the highest ranking official of the Republic of Armenia.
The people of Armenia know that through their expression of free will they have formed legislative power, formed a government and an executive power through fair, free and internationally recognized parliamentary elections. But the people of Armenia continue to perceive the judiciary as a leftover of the former corrupt regime, that continues to plot and execute deceptions against the people. How real is this presumption and how well founded it is, is another matter. But when the judiciary does not have the trust of the people, it means it does not have enough legitimacy to continue working, which has today become a direct threat to the country’s organic life, stability and national security.
From the very first day of being elected prime minister, I have taken on the obligation to not, in any way interfere with the judiciary and I have religiously carried out that obligation. Unfortunately, on the other hand, I can not guarantee that the judiciary is not subject to shadowy and illegal influences, mainly by the former corrupt system, because those two systems are interconnected through human, political and other bonds. I can bring one example, how can we be sure that today’s judiciary is capable of objectively looking into the March 1 case when dozens of illegal actions by the executive body were made possible in collaboration with the judicial system. This is now evident through the decisions of the European Human Rights court and these verdicts also pertain to people’s right to ownership and other issues.
This situation also has its direct impact on the fight against corruption which we have declared. Despite the fact that the fight against corruption has been declared a priority by the highest levels of government, but because of the lack of trust in the judiciary, the productivity of the investigative bodies suffers.
Investigative bodies work with the assumption that the judiciary will throw away all discoveries because of organic links with the corrupt system. These aren’t new problems. I have recognized them from day one. But based on the principles of the Velvet Revolution, I have considered that every person should have their part in building a new Armenia through political or legal redemption, through taking steps to regain the people’s trust. I had hoped that many judges, understanding that their previous actions and values are not congruent with the new Armenia and does not allow them to make decisions in the name of the Republic, would resign. This did not take place.
We cannot tolerate this situation. Like I said, it it is a matter of stability, regular life, and security. It also a matter of the country’s economic development because an untrustworthy judiciary disrupts investments.
And therefore, it is time for a surgical interference into the judicial system.
This process must be expressed in this way:
All judges in Armenia, without exception, must undergo vetting. The public must have complete knowledge of the judges’ political affiliations, properties, past activities, individual and professional qualifications
According to the decision of the European Court of Human Right, all judges who blatantly violate human rights must resign or be forced out.
All judges who know that they cannot be impartial should resign, as a service to the Armenian public
Now transitional justice mechanisms are vital for the Republic of Armenia and in the coming 1-2 months, we need to conclude our work in this regard.
In the National Assembly, there needs to be relevant legislative initiatives to bring this agenda to life and to establish an independent judiciary. If this needs constitutional amendments, we need to do that. If it needs a referendum, we need to do that. This needs to happen under the purview of relevant international institutions, and international best practices, and following the international commitments of Armenia.
We have been discussing this agenda with the UN, the EU, the OSCE, the World Bank, etc. I have hope that all international partners will stand next to Armenia, because we want a truly independent, objective judiciary, not a puppet show, which corresponds to the civilized word’s criteria. We must also cooperate with civil society, organizations.
I want to underline that the time for clear, trustworthy, institutional solutions has come in the fight against corruption.
It is vital to have an independent judiciary. The absence of such a judiciary is the first threat to our Republic. It is a public demand. This is the reason that I considered it necessary to make a statement. I am required to do everything to bring to life the expectations of the public in a stable way.
It is obvious that representatives of the previous corrupt system want to maintain their old ways of doing things, creating conflict, discord, and animosity between the people of Artsakh and Armenia in the logic of divide and conquer to hide their previous acts of corruption.
It is obvious for us that our compatriots in Artsakh have suffered even more because of the system of corruption in Armenia. However, certain officials of that system, utilize their corrupt ties to spew falsities against the government and personally against the Prime Minister of Armenia
Even in last year’s elections, I have said that, analyzing this situation I have seen objectives of inciting treasonous war and even giving up lands and putting the blame on the Republic of Armenia. In this sense, I consider this as national treason, and as the guarantor of peace in Artsakh, the Prime Minister of Armenia, and in situations of war the Commander-in-Chief, I will initiate the strictest measures to halt these treasonous acts.
The time has come to create an investigative commission in the National Assembly to examine the circumstances behind the April War and to answer questions that interest us all.
To summarize, within the Artsakh-Armenia theme, I call on the Armenians in Artsakh to reject all actions and powers that want to divide Armenia and Artsakh. I call on the people of Artsakh to support only the powers that come from the Armenian people and its legitimate representative government. All other powers want to use the people of Artsakh to serve the narrow interests of their group, and to avoid bearing the responsibility for their previous crimes, and to incite treason against the sovereignty of Armenia and Artsakh.
In Armenia, the changes that occurred are deep and irreversible. The author of these changes is not any single political power, rather it is the free and proud citizen of Armenia, all Armenians. All those who want to revert Armenia back are acting against the people of Armenia, the people of Artsakh, and all Armenians. The revolution of love and solidarity has overthrown the system of corruption and it cannot come to terms with any result other than the complete and unconditional capitulation of that system.
As for the judicial system, I want to record that there cannot be a judicial system whose power does not come from the people. The unchangeable second article of the Armenian Constitution states that in the Republic of Armenia, power belongs to the people.
The people shall exercise their power through free elections, referenda, as well as through state and local self-government bodies and officials provided for by the Constitution.
Therefore, there cannot be an authority in the country, including judicial, that does not represent the people and whose power does not come from the people.
As Prime Minister, I consider myself the guarantor of the power of the people. To guarantee that power, I intend to take the necessary steps, calling for the support of the people if that becomes necessary. I consider it appropriate to explain the purpose and symbol of calling on people to block the entrances. The symbol is that there cannot be a judiciary that doesn’t have the trust of the people. Otherwise, even the most justified decision will be seen by the people as an insult because the verdicts are in the name of the Republic, and thereby in the name of the people. Those verdicts can be made only by judges that have the institutional right to talk in the name of the people and the Republic.
Ladies and gentlemen, through a live video on my Facebook page, I will address our compatriots that are blocking the entrances of courthouses with the results of these discussions.