Philippe Raffi Kalfayan

Pashinyan Is Navigating Dangerous Waters


By Philippe Raffi Kalfayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s decision to block access to the courts of the Republic of Armenia, using as an excuse the necessary purge of the judiciary, is unconstitutional, dangerous and barely hiding his impulsive reaction to the decision of the Avan Court judge to release Robert Kocharyan on bail and under surveillance.

The fate of the latter is a permanent and personal obsession of the prime minister. This impulsive reaction could compromise the positive transformation that Pashinyan has undeniably brought to Armenian public life since coming to power. The humiliating incarceration of Robert Kocharyan, we wrote in August 2018 (, was legally questionable and politically useless; its only consequence was to make him a political victim and to awaken his inner warrior. Instead, it would have been wiser to quickly put in place the recommended transitional justice mechanism.

The pressure of two Artsakh presidents who brought their weight to obtain Robert Kocharyan’s conditional release, adds an additional risk, that of exacerbating an anti-Karabakh sentiment in the Armenian population supporting Pashinyan. On the legal side, the bail of Bako Sahakyan and Arkady Ghukasyan is also questionable: what would be the remedy of the judicial system of Armenia against these two persons, owners of multiple citizenships, one of them being “head of state,” if Robert Kocharyan were to not respect the conditions imposed for his release?

This does not detract from the fact that the Monday, May 20 appeal by Pashinyan to the “people” to block access to all courts and tribunals in the country is unconstitutional: it violates the separation of powers and contradicts the alleged non-interference in judicial system, although the Prime Minister defends himself from it. At 13:30, he launched a new appeal to the people, this time to unblock the courts’ access.

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Everybody knows that the judicial system has been corrupt for many years, but there has been a lot of progress over the past 25 years in both the training of judges and the functioning of the justice system. With the exception of some exposed criminal or economic cases involving prominent individuals, the overwhelming majority of cases are handled professionally and humanely. There is no justification for carrying out this coup against the justice system today, in such a brutal way and calling on the “people.” There is a constitution that defines the rights and obligations of the institutions. It is not up to the people to dictate the decisions of the judges. The rational criteria which would make it possible to measure the confidence of the “people” in its justice are difficult to fix so much the perception of justice is subjective, that is to say personal.

President Armen Sarkissian, absent from the country, did not make a mistake: in the middle of the night he immediately called for reason and calm. The human rights mediator, Armand Tatoyan, alerted the public on the dangers of this decision to block the courts. At the same time, he condemned the aggression against former ARF leader Hrand Markaryan in front of his grandchildren while walking in Yerevan. This act is not trivial; it is even novel, because in the traditional culture of Armenia, it is a sacred principle to spare children this type of a scene. The fact that this incident took place shows a dangerous radicalization. The prime minister announcing that the second phase of his “revolution” is starting gives a green light to these types of excesses. This week at least one judge was physically assaulted while trying to enter his court. The calls to people to pressure institutions are dangerous in that they participate in this culture of popular violence, which could quickly degenerate into a bloody confrontation.

The prime minister’s intervention on Facebook, where we can see sitting around him a group of officials, such as ministers, the ombudsman, the chief of police, the head of the Special Investigative Services, the public prosecutor, the army chief of staff, etc., creates discomfort. It is obvious that Pashinyan leads the country alone and without prior consultation. Video recordings of government sessions show it regularly; on Monday, the faces of the gathered people were tense and nervous. The Minister of Justice, Artak Zeynalyan, who was eagerly taking notes, seems to have discovered the measures announced by Pashinyan while they relate mainly to his ministry.

The main opposition political parties, whether present in Parliament or not, have all denounced the violation of the constitutional order.

Faced with this personal isolation, Pashinyan appeals to the people of the Republic of Armenia, but also to the people of the Republic of Artsakh to fight against the rulers there. This appeal shows once again the ambiguity of the political situation between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh. Pashinyan, who, a few weeks ago, claimed he could not make a decision on the future of Artsakh because he had not been elected by its inhabitants, now calls upon them to stand up against their rulers!

While the major economic and social challenges remain, the prime minister plays a political card that he is likely to lose, but it is Armenia that would come out weakened again. Pashinyan’s unconstitutional outbursts, if repeated, risk ruining his own efforts and President Sarkissian’s efforts to attract major international investors to Armenia. Moreover, if chaos sets in, it will lead to massive emigration.

Let’s not kid ourselves; euphoria around the dynamism of new technologies and real assets that Armenia has in this area will not be enough to fill the void of the rest of the economy, especially because this young, educated, and talented population is distant from the world of politics and has the particularity of being “globalized,” that is to say that many countries will be happy to host them so that can prosper.

The precursors of this vindictive, authoritarian and contradictory personality were present in his speech of August 17, 2018. If the situation worsens on the ground, opportunists and courtiers who have joined Pashinyan and his party are likely to turn their backs just as quickly and opportunely, increasing its isolation a little more. What would be the next “revolutionary” measure to counter opponents? Tanks?

[Philippe Raffi Kalfayan is a Lawyer, Lecturer in International Law and a former Secretary General of FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights). He is a regular columnist for the Mirror-Spectator.]


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