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September 2, 2004

ACNIS Completes Series of Seminars on National Minorities

Yerevan-The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened today its fifth specialized policy seminar on “The Rights of Armenian National Minorities in 2003-2004” at the Armenia Marriott Hotel with the support of the Council of Europe Confidence-building Measures Program. Held within the framework of the “Coordination among National Minorities and Information Exchanges on Minority Rights in Armenia” Project, the meeting brought together specialized bodies dealing with national and religious minority issues, human rights advocates, leaders and representatives of national minorities in Armenia, relevant government officials, representatives of diplomatic corps, international organizations, NGOs and media communities to discuss issues on Armenian national minorities and their rights in light of the Report on Armenia of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Karapet Kalenchian, ACNIS's director of administration, greeted the capacity audience with opening remarks. “For a country having as large a diaspora as ours, where respect for national minority rights is not only a requirement of Council of Europe but also a matter of honor and dignity, the problems of national minorities should always be the focus of both the authorities and each of us. Therefore, let us speak openly without bypassing the thorns of the problem.” Kalenchian called on the audience to engage in a sincere and interesting discussion.

In his address on “The Requirements for the Report on National Minorities,” ACNIS analyst and project director Stepan Safarian called attention to those provisions of the Council of Europe which promote the development of language, culture, religion, health, science, and education, and the preservation of their national values and features. “The Council of Europe has expressed a desire for Armenia to make positive changes in the legislative acts of national minorities as well as to adopt a separate law on national minorities,” Safarian noted.

During the first session entitled “Concerns of the 2003 Report on Armenia of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI): Solved or Forgotten Issues?” Lilit Simonian, assistant to Constitutional Court Justice Felix Tokhian and the director of Law and Information Center, clarified the international legal instruments, constitutional reforms, provisions of criminal, civil, and administrative laws. According to her, the protection of national minority rights is an integral part of international protection of human rights. Minority rights protection is being enforced both by general instruments addressing that problem and a number of international legal agreements on national minorities recently ratified by Armenia. “Though the European Convention on Citizenship and several other international instruments have not been signed yet, the Armenian legislative, executive, and judicial bodies are acquiring commitments to carry out the norms stipulated in those international instruments,” Simonian emphasized, attaching importance to the constitutional enhancement of national minority rights, in particular the necessity of amending Article 37 of the Armenian Constitution. Parliamentarian Vazgen Khachikian also referred to the conventions Armenia has ratified. He claimed that any individual can appeal to court in the event of violation of his/her rights and national dignity based on the intergovernmental instruments. Khachikian is convinced that national minorities are more a treasure for Armenia than a threat.

The second session on “National Minority Rights in Armenia: 2003-2004” began with the review of the completed and forthcoming activities of the governmental bodies engaged in national minority issues. Hranush Kharatian, chairperson of the National and Religious Minorities Board of the Government of Armenia, informed that the Law on National Minorities drafted with the active input of national minority communities will soon be released. “The law shall provide special supervision over the preservation of national cultural traditions and call for additional governmental assistance to tackle the problems impeding their development. Nonetheless, no matter how positive it is viewed, the law seems to be risky and inefficient,” opined Kharatian.

Victor Mnatsakanian of the Ombudsperson's office negatively reacted to the question posed in his address “Is There Discrimination in Armenia?,” quoting the fact that there are no more than a dozen such appeals addressed to the Ombudsman's office. It is noteworthy that the latter will soon respond to Armenian Aryan Order leader Armen Avetisian's provocative statements published in the press which have aroused the indignation of the national minorities.

Garnik Guyumdjian, chief of the Department for State Programs, Cultural Cooperation, Education and Science of the Ministry of Culture and Youth Issues, underlined that the measures taken to preserve the cultural values of national minorities constitute part of state policy pursued in this field. He prioritized fostering of creative work, preserving of cultural inheritance, dissemination of cultural values, the application of creative potential and legal and economic regulation for the development of national cultures. In his opinion, the national minorities enjoy sufficient protection under the current legislation.

Nouridjan Manoukian, chief of the Control Department at the Board of Secondary Education of the Ministry of Education and Science, concentrated on the improvement of education including preserving national languages. In his opinion the main obstacle one encounters in education based on the language is not the lack of the law but the lack of educators and textbooks. “Nothing is undertaken to face the challenge. Moreover, sometimes the contradictions in the same community lead to conflicting actions,” he remarked.

Edgar Hakobian of the NGO “Toward Free Society” concluded the second session with remarks encouraging the youth of national minorities to take active part in the nationwide youth policy and other initiatives. Otherwise, the speaker warned, they will remain isolated from the Armenian mainstream.

The seminar was followed by a lively roundtable of views among Alikhan Shababian, representative of Nor Nork district council; Hasan Hasanian, head of the Yezidi religious organization “Followers of Sharfadin”; Rabbi Gersh Bourstein, head of the Mordekhay Navi Jewish Community of Armenia; Dalila Arzumanian of the “Atur” Assyrian Union; Charkyaze Mstoyan, chairman of the “Kurdistan” committee; Ivan Semionov of Russian Compatriot Relief Foundation; Slava Rafaelidis, representative of the Greek community and chairman of the Council of Armenian Nationalities; Romania Yavir, chairperson of the Ukrainian Federation in Armenia; Lavrenty Mirzoyan of the State Inspectorate of Language; Ara Sahakian of “Armat” Center; Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee; Georgy Vanian of Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiatives NGO; Gayane Markosian of the “Harmonious World” NGO; Alexander Yaskorsky of German community; and several others.

Despite some reservations, the participants in the discussion noted that the rights of national minorities are respected in Armenia. They offered practical suggestions for further promoting state policy in educational, cultural, and other spheres in regard of the representatives of this particular stratum of society. Lavrenty Mirzoyan, chief of State Inspectorate of Language, suggested that the national minority representatives cooperate with the agency he heads. He expressed readiness to establish a group of national minorities in the Inspectorate to address their language issues. A brisk discussion followed on the expediency of adoption of a law on national minorities. Charkyaze Mstoyan, chairman of the “Kurdistan” committee, was against its adoption as in his opinion it can be a “straight-jacket” for them. Rabbi Gersh Bourstein thinks that the law should first be discussed in the communities and only then submitted to the parliament for consideration. “The law should protect the national minorities from estrangement, the symptoms of which are apparent,” Bourstein maintained. In Yaskorsky's opinion even a perfect law may not be effective if not applied.

Founded in 1994 by Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K. Hovannisian, and supported by the Lincy Foundation and a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2004, the Center focuses primarily on public outreach, civic education, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.

For further information on the Center and its activities, call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; e-mail root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am

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