At its 29th Annual Meeting held in the majestic mountain city of Shushi, the Armenian Bar’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the establishment of the Artsakh Law Initiative Committee—otherwise known as ALIC, an acronym with the symbolic meaning of a positive “wave” in Armenian.
“This newly-formed committee comes at the ideal time of Artsakh’s emergence as the magnificent example of a nation and people deserving of dignity, poise and recognition. We will pour all of our goodwill and know-how into seeing that Artsakh’s legal structures and institutions are strong, transparent, and inspiring of its citizens’ confidence.” said Armenian Bar Co-Vice Chairperson Lucy Varpetian.
Armenian Bar Chairman Gerard Kassabian offered the following historical perspective, “In a show of just how important the continuing peace and developing prosperity of Artsakh are to the Armenian Bar, in 2015, we amended our official mission statement for the first time since our inception in 1989. In our Arstakh Amendment, the Armenian Bar has declared that we steadfastly recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Artsakh and that we will endeavor to bring about the international recognition of its undeniable statehood and its acceptance among the family of nations.”
As for the structure and organization of the new committee, ALIC Chairman Saro Kerkonian had this to say, “ALIC will centralize the numerous legal initiatives that our devoted group of lawyers and specialists has undertaken in Artsakh and the programs—some that are already underway–will be developed under the authority granted by the Board of Governors. The health and longevity of Artsakh are our top priorities and we will do everything humanly possible to help with that and, in so doing, the phrase ‘one nation, one people’ will take on true meaning.”
With the guidance and leadership of the Honorable Ruben Melikyan, Artsakh’s Human Rights Defender and Ombudsman–and a veteran Armenian Bar member– the Association has already implemented and funded two programs in Artsakh: the first is a dynamic legal clinic offering free services in the capital city of Stepanakert, in collaboration with Artsakh State University. The clinic was launched in October 2017 and, through its staff of dedicated teachers and gifted students, provides much-needed professional assistance to Artsakh residents who might not otherwise have access to or knowledge about the legal system. At its Board of Governors meeting in Yerevan, on May 28, 2018, between celebrations of the First Republic of Armenia, the Board renewed the organization’s commitment to the Artsakh Pro Bono Legal Clinic by authorizing the funding of the clinic office and staff for an additional year.
The second program actually transports young Armenian Bar members to Artsakh, where they will live and work during an 8-week internship program at the office of the Artsakh Human Rights Defender. From a field of several highly-qualified candidates, UCLA law student Anahid Sargsyan and Notre Dame law student Davit Avagyan were chosen as the Armenian Bar’s inaugural legal interns. They will spend two months learning and assisting Mr. Melikyan and the Human Rights Defender’s office with legal research, evidence gathering and legal document preparation.
The Board of Governors also agreed to furnish logistical and monetary support to a moot court team from Artsakh State University, which will participate in a mock trial competition in Nuremberg, Germany. The funds will go towards underwriting the costs of travel and lodging for the team. Also, while in Stepanakert, delegations of Armenian Bar members met with Artsakh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Masis Mayilyan, and with Chief Justice Narine Narimanyan and the Associate Justices of Artsakh’s Supreme Court, which notably consists of a female majority.
Following the success of the meeting with Artsakh’s Supreme Court, swift consensus was reached among the Board members that arrangements will be made in the near futrure to facilitate a judicial exchange whereby Artsakh Supreme Court Justices will be brought to the United States to meet their colleagues in the Supreme, Appellate and Trial Courts in America.
Alex Hrag Bastian, a key Armenian Bar representative who works in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office summed up the importance of ALIC, “A strong and independent judiciary is a pillar of any country’s democracy and we have chosen to invest who we are and what we do best into the development of Artsakh’s legal institutions. We are proud to partner with the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court to enable this exchange, which will be of benefit to all who participate. We can’t wait to open our doors and welcome in our sisters and brothers from Artsakh!”
For those interested in supporting the work of the Armenian Bar Association’s Artsakh Law Initiative Committee, please contact us at [email protected] or make a donation here.