Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This Week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Supreme Judicial Council Appointments
● Turkish-Azerbaijani Military Exercises in Kars Region
● New US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Armenia
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Aram Hamparian is the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the largest grassroots advocacy organization representing the views and values of American Armenians.
Asbed Kotchikian, who is an associate professor of political science and international relations at the American University of Armenia.
Emil Sanamyan, a senior research fellow at USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies specializing in politics in the Caucasus, with a special focus on Azerbaijan.
This week, the National Assembly voted in two new members of the Supreme Judicial Council: Gagik Jahangiryan and Davit Khachatryan. The parliamentary opposition boycotted the closed ballot vote, so this was purely a Ruling Bloc appointment.
The Supreme Judicial Council was formed in 2018 based on the 2015 constitutional referendum. It is tasked with matters related to courts and judges, such as carrying out disciplinary actions towards judges.
Who are Jahangiryan and Khachatryan? What are these appointments about?
● Chief military prosecutor from 1997 to 2006
● Prosecutor during October 27 (ever since then the has alleged conspiracy involving Robert Kocharyan, but none of these facts came up during his time as the prosecutor)
● Member of parliament as part of Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress faction from 2012 to 2017.
● Deputy chief prosecutor of Armenia until 2008 when he publicly sided with Ter-Petrosyan on March 1?
● Has several luxurious properties of questionable provenance, which during the NA hearing he played down as a barn (incidentally, this “barn” is being rented out by the govt. of Iraq as its embassy in Yerevan).
● Was prosecutor during the Madaghis case, which eventually ended up with the defendants being acquitted. Lots of allegations of torture and other abuses during that particular trial.
● Worked for almost 8 years at the US Embassy in Armenia and was most recently the Chair of the Board of Directors of Open Society Foundation in Armenia.
● His brother, Sasun Khachatryan, is the Head of the Special Investigation Service.
In recent months Armenian courts have rejected attempts by prosecutors to jail members of the opposition, including former presidents. Pashinian has accused judges of remaining linked to Armenia’s former leadership and charged last month that the judicial system is part of a “pseudo-elite” that is trying to topple him for the catastrophic loss to Azerbaijan.
Is this an attempt by the ruling party to bring the judicial branch under its control?
The Turkish and Azerbaijani armed forces are going to be holding offensive military exercises in the Kars region across Armenia’s western border, during the first half of February. These drills are comprehensive and intend to exercise homegrown weaponry. The last time these two countries conducted exercises, the drills ended the day before Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh on September 27, 2020.
What do you make of these military games, while there’s still strong regional tension in the aftermath of the second war in Artsakh? What’s the intended message?
In response to concerns raised about the exercises, Andranik Kocharyan, a member of Armenian parliament said that we shouldn’t be too frightened by these exercises. Incidentally, before the 44-day war another member of parliament Lilit Makunts said the same thing about the potential for Turkish military involvement in the region.
What should be the appropriate messaging from the government to citizenry on such threats? Should the government downplay the importance of these exercises to reduce potential panic or is some level of sounding the alarm important in order to keep the public alert?
Armenia in response seems to have announced a small defensive exercise in a few villages in the South, focused on improving ability to evacuate the population and take shelter. Perhaps this is important but isn’t it also important to show some teeth in response to the Azerbaijani/Turkish display of force (potentially in partnership with Russia)?
Since Joe Biden was elected president of the United States, we’ve heard a lot of appropriate statements from his incoming administration:
● Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to Congressman Menendez of New Jersey affirming that he would seek to provide Armenia and Armenians around the South Caucasus appropriate security and humanitarian assistance, and more.
● Blinken also confirmed that Biden’s Administration will consult with Congress on the wording of its April 24th statement; to note, both houses of the US Congress recognized the Armenian genocide in near-unanimous votes at the end of 2019.
These are all good things to hear!
What are the Armenian-American community’s expectations of the US during the coming 3-4 years? And what are pragmatic, reasonable outcomes can the Biden administration drive forward?
The ANCA keeps a tab on American politicians and even assigns grades to their service from an Armenian-centric perspective. What is your impression of the incoming Biden administration, the history of the various personalities that we’re going to be dealing with in the coming term? Biden, Harris, Blinken, others?
What about the incoming Congress and Senate, and their leaderships?
Regarding the recognition of Artsakh, another positive statement came from Congressman Adam Schiff from California who said that the US Congress should recognize Artsakh’s independence, just like the French Parliament did back in October 2020. Given that only international states, in our case the federal executive branch can officially recognize a country as a sovereign nation state, what’s the value of these local, regional, city, county, or state level recognitions, of which we now have dozens?
What do the coming 3 to 4 years hold, as far as Armenian-American advocacy priorities go, essentially during the upcoming Biden/Harris term?
● The European Parliament passed a strongly worded resolution condemning Turkish destabilizing presence in the South Caucasus, and demanding an end to aid to Azerbaijan. If both the US and the EU are strongly disposed against Turkey, what can we expect that the coming 3-4 years hold in this aspect for us?
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Aram Hamparian, Asbed Kotchikian, Emil Sanamyan, ANCA DC, Joe Biden, Tony Blinken, Millennium Challenge
Additional: Gagik Jahangiryan, Davit Khachatryan, Armenia, Artsakh, Recognize Artsakh, Armenian American Advocacy, Washington, Kamala Harris, Turkey, Kars, Azerbaijan, Military exercises, Military drills, war games