F18News Summary: Azerbaijan; Turkey

FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PsNA4gKpQ$
 

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief

=================================================

27 March 2020
AZERBAIJAN: "No objection" to limited worship, but no legal right
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2557__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PsT8u19ng$
 
After 25 years, Aliabad's Baptist community, denied legal status the
longest, finally began open worship in January. The State Committee for
Work with Religious Organisations wrote that it had "no objection" to
meetings once a week for two hours. Shia Imam Sardar Babayev, freed after a
three-year sentence for preaching in a mosque with foreign education, will
not resume preaching for fear of renewed criminal prosecution.

25 March 2020
TURKEY: Constitutional Court judgment on Armenian Patriarchal election –
a precedent?
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2556__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pu_M1qNrQ$
 
Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled in May 2019 that state interference in
the election to replace the ailing Armenian Patriarch was not prescribed by
law and not necessary in a democratic society. The precedent is relevant
for similar cases over interference in the internal affairs of other
religious communities, particularly those the state considers Lausanne
Treaty minorities. But any impact remains to be seen.
* See full article below. *

25 March 2020
TURKEY: Constitutional Court judgment on Armenian Patriarchal election –
a precedent?

https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2556__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pu_M1qNrQ$
 
By Dr. Mine Yildirim,

Turkey's Constitutional Court (Anayasa Mahkemesi – AYM) issued an
important judgment in May 2019 addressing state interference in the
election of a religious leader, namely the long-standing obstruction of the
election of a Patriarch for the Armenian community in Turkey. The Court
found such interference not prescribed by law and not necessary in a
democratic society.

The Armenian Apostolic Church community is the largest Christian community
in Turkey.

State interference in the internal affairs of religious or belief
communities is a long-standing concern that impacts a number of religious
or belief communities in critical ways.

In theory, the Constitutional Court judgment could be applied to other
religious communities in Turkey which endure such state interference
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1477__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvoXYsa0Q$
 ). The judgment sets a
precedent and should guide other courts when considering analogous cases,
though whether this happens in practice remains to be seen.

While the judgment includes important findings related to the state's
unjustified interference in the internal affairs of the Armenian community,
it also raises questions about whether the Constitutional Court is an
effective domestic remedy or an actor that conveniently blocks applications
to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, thus closing
the door to international supervision.

The state had prevented the Armenian community from electing its religious
leader between 2009, when the then Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan could no
longer perform his duties due to illness, and 2019, when the community
finally elected Bishop Sahak Mashalyan as the new Patriarch.

The December 2019 election of the new Patriarch became possible only after
the state authorities allowed elections to go ahead following the death in
March 2019 of Mutafyan, the 84th Patriarch of Turkey's Armenians.

The state's obstruction of the election of a Patriarch by the Armenian
community had affected community affairs in very negative ways
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ).

Constitutional court judgment

The Turkish Constitutional Court's judgment of 22 May 2019 on the
individual application made by two local Armenians Levon Berç Kuzukoğlu
and Ohannes Garbis Balmumciyan in 2014 (Application No. 2014/17354) has
significant implications for the interferences in the internal affairs of
religious or belief communities in Turkey.

The applicants had complained that the state's refusal of the request they
made for the election of a Patriarch for Turkey's Armenians violated their
right to freedom of religion.

The Istanbul 3rd Administrative Court rejected Kuzukoğlu and Balmumciyan's
original application on 27 March 2012. It argued that, under the 1863
Regulation for the Armenian Millet (ethno-religious community) and
subsequent Interior Ministry directives (talimatname), the Patriarchal seat
can be considered vacant only following the death or resignation of the
Patriarch.

The Administrative Court ruled that since the Patriarch (Mesrob Mutafyan)
was neither dead nor had given his resignation as of 4 October 1998,
elections could not be held. The Court therefore found that the state's
refusal of the request for a new election was not incompatible with the
law. 

The applicants appealed against this decision, but the Court of Cassation
(10th Chamber) rejected their appeal on 23 November 2015.

Constitutional Court finds state interference not prescribed by law

The Constitutional Court's May 2019 judgment presents an accurate
description of the state interference in the Armenian community's right to
elect its own leader 
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ),
both before the applicants lodged their case and subsequently.

When considering the applicable law, the Constitutional Court refers to the
1863 Regulation for the Armenian Millet (ethno-religious community) and
international legal provisions, including the European Convention on Human
Rights and the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty's provisions on the protection of
non-Muslims in Turkey.

A key question here concerns the relevance of the 1863 Regulation that
regulates the election of Turkey's Armenian Patriarch (Articles 1-7), the
various organs of the Patriarchate and their elections, and the functioning
of the charity and social bodies within the Patriarchate, and also includes
provisions on the Jerusalem Patriarchate (which was in 1863 under the
Ottoman Empire). Article 2 sets out how elections take place when the
Patriarch's seat becomes vacant for various reasons, such as "the death of
the Patriarch, resignation and other".

While the 1863 Regulation is a remnant from the Ottoman era, throughout the
Republican era the state authorities have left the procedure of the four
elections for the Armenian Patriarch that have taken place (in 1950, 1961,
1990, 1998 and 2019) partly unchanged, but with some arbitrary changes.
These have left the Armenian community with only limited influence over its
own election and with no way to foresee what procedures the state would
impose.

For the most part, the election Directives were based on the Cabinet Decree
of 18 September 1961 (No. 511654), which had been issued only for that
year's Patriarchal election and which included no provisions for future
elections. Despite this, the Interior Ministry has continued to use this
Decree.

 

The Interior Ministry's submission to the Constitutional Court states that
the measures taken by the authorities derive from "the state's positive
obligation to organise the religious field".

The Constitutional Court's judgment describes the issue as one that
essentially relates to religious freedom that is protected under Article 24
of Turkey's Constitution. Equally, the Constitutional Court recognises as
relevant the Lausanne Peace Treaty, specifically Article 38 that refers to
the freedom to practice religion, and the applicable jurisprudence of the
ECtHR in Strasbourg.

The Constitutional Court notes that the election of a religious leader
constitutes a form of manifestation of religion and, as such, is protected
under the Constitution.

In addition, the Constitutional Court finds that measures that led to the
appointment of a Patriarchal Vicar-General (in 2010)
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1477__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvoXYsa0Q$
 ) occurred not as a
result of a process that took place within the competing civilian and
spiritual initiatives in the Armenian community, but as a result of "state
pressure that was unconstitutional".

As a result, the Constitutional Court finds that there has been
interference in the Armenian community's right to freedom of religion or
belief, a freedom that is guaranteed under Article 24 of the Constitution.

A crucial finding in the judgment concerns the legality of the restriction.
The Constitutional Court notes that it may be considered that public
authorities have the authority to organise the election of the Armenian
Patriarch under the 1863 Regulation and practice in subsequent elections.

However, the Constitutional Court rules that under Article 13 of the
Constitution, fundamental rights may only be restricted by law. It notes
that, in the present case, a legal provision that can prevent arbitrary
actions by public authorities, that will enable persons to know the law,
that is accessible, foreseeable and absolute is absent. As a result, the
restriction cannot be considered as being prescribed by law.

While the Constitutional Court found that the restrictions pursued a
legitimate aim, that of protecting the right to freedom of religion of the
members of the Armenian community, other criteria for permissible
limitations were not fulfilled.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court noted that events that occurred after
the application was submitted in 2014 demonstrate the state's continuing
desire to determine the conditions under which elections for an Armenian
Patriarch might take place.

In conclusion, the Constitutional Court found that the state has not been
able to demonstrate a pressing social need that overrides the "spirit of
Armenian traditions" and the "Armenian community's will". Therefore the
interference in the applicants' right to freedom of religion or belief by
way of refusing the request to hold Patriarchal elections cannot be
considered compatible with the requirements of a democratic society, and
Article 24 of the Constitution had thus been violated.

The judgment provides an authoritative interpretation of applicable law and
therefore should guide future practice. Patriarch Mashalyan welcomed the
Constitutional Court judgment, adding on 16 March 2020 that "it should be
taken into account in the preparation of directives for elections in the
future".

Sebu Aslangil, the lawyer in the case, commented to Forum 18 in February
2020 that the Constitutional Court judgment is a precedent in its reference
to legality, secularism and the right to freedom of religion or belief.
However, he argued that it is important that these judgments continue and
that similar judgments concerning analogous applications become the norm
for all court decisions.

Constitutional Court - effective domestic remedy in religious freedom
cases?

The Constitutional Court's judgment is thorough and well argued, and the
finding that the restriction on the way the Armenian community chooses its
religious leader was not prescribed by law is particularly significant. On
the other hand, a significant shortcoming of the Constitutional Court's
judgment was its timing.

The application was lodged in 2014, but the Constitutional Court did not
rule until May 2019, two months after the 8 March death of Patriarch Mesrob
Mutafyan. Therefore the judgment came when the state's arguments that an
election could not go ahead no longer existed.

The timing might be interpreted as a sign of the Constitutional Court's
hesitation to contradict state practice in situations where domestic
practice clearly contradicts human rights standards.

Patriarch Mashalyan commented that the Constitutional Court is independent
and therefore the timing of the judgment did not raise any questions.
Aslangil, however, maintained that "had it been issued before the death of
Mesrob Mutafyan, it would have been a very strong judgment".

Where it is evident that legitimising state practice that is not compatible
with human rights law in the area of freedom of religion or belief would
jeopardise the Constitutional Court's position as an effective domestic
remedy, the Court's practice has been to postpone judgment.

That over 20 individual applications on conscientious objection to military
service are still pending with the Constitutional Court is compatible with
this finding. The Constitutional Court had referred an individual
application on conscientious objection to the Plenary Chamber of the
Constitutional Court in 2016. The Court has not yet ruled on any of these
cases.

Patriarchal election interference despite Constitutional Court judgment

After the May 2019 Constitutional Court judgment, the state authorities
continued to interfere in the way the Armenian community elected its new
leader following Patriarch Mutafyan's death two months earlier. The
interference came despite the binding nature of Constitutional Court
judgments for legislative, executive and judicial organs, administrative
authorities, and real and legal persons under Article 153 of the
Constitution.

The Armenian community started the process of electing the 85th Patriarch
by forming an Election Steering Committee (Mütesebbis Heyet). The Interior
Ministry, however, sent the directive for the election which stipulated
that the future Patriarch had to be "from among the class of bishops of the
Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul", that is, those serving directly in
Istanbul. This effectively reduced the pool of candidates to just two.

Views in the Armenian community differed on whether this interference was
in accordance with the law and/or justified. Patriarch Mashalyan considered
the directive as "based on the 1863 Regulation" and not prepared "despite
the Constitutional Court judgment". On the other hand, the lawyer Aslangil
commented that the state administration, including the Interior Ministry
and the Court of Cassation, demonstrated that they were in no way affected
by the judgment.

The Interior Ministry not only changed the criteria for candidates, but
also influenced the election of the Locum Tenens (temporary leader,
Deghabah) so that the election was between only two candidates. "This is
100 per cent in contradiction to the Constitutional Court judgment,"
Aslangil insists. The Election Steering Committee, however, did not object
to the state-imposed changes in the criteria for the elections.

Aslangil appealed to the Administrative Court in October 2019, objecting to
the Interior Ministry's interference in the Patriarchal elections then in
preparation. However, the Administrative Court has yet to give a ruling,
and there is no limit as to how long it can take to do so. According to
Aslangil, were the Administrative Court to reject the application, the
applicants could challenge this decision directly to the Constitutional
Court. However, this could then also cause the 2019 election to "lose its
legitimacy".

Administrative Court and Court of Cassation decisions on non-Muslim
minority issues have, since the 1960s, been overwhelmingly against the
interests of these communities, Aslangil complains.

The latest of these judgments concerned Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian, the
Istanbul-born spiritual leader of Germany's Armenian community. He had
challenged the state's move to annul his election in March 2017 as Locum
Tenens of the Patriarchate
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ). Ankara Administrative
Court ruled in December 2019 that since the new Patriarch has now been
elected, there is no reason for this case to be reviewed. Aslangil objected
to this ruling, which is still awaiting court consideration.

Aslangil, the lawyer, commented that administrative courts do not have the
necessary expertise to deal with these cases and therefore hesitate to give
bold decisions. Asked what needs to be done, he responded: "The
Constitutional Court has to reject our case so that we can go to the
ECtHR."

Only once a case has been considered by the Constitutional Court can
applicants lodge a case to the ECtHR in Strasbourg
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1855__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PtbtVvjmw$
 ).

Commenting on the interference, Garo Paylan, an Armenian MP from the HDP
(Halklarin Demokratik Partisi – People's Democratic Party) at the time
the directive was sent to the Election Steering Committee, told Bianet news
agency on 24 September 2019 that under these circumstances the coming
elections "cannot be called an election".

Paylan pointed out that in previous elections for a new Armenian Patriarch,
candidacy has been open to Armenian clerics from around the world, not just
to those serving directly in the Patriarchate in Istanbul. "There are many
clerics from Sivas, Malatya, Adana and Istanbul, and all of these
candidates were able to participate in all elections, they had the right to
be elected," he added.

Is untimely justice really justice?

The Constitutional Court's May 2019 finding is significant in ruling that
the state interference in the election of an Armenian Patriarch is not
prescribed by law and not necessary in a democratic society. It also sets a
precedent and is thus relevant for similar cases over state interference in
the internal affairs of other religious communities in Turkey, more
specifically those considered as minorities by the state under the Lausanne
Peace Treaty (such as the Greek Orthodox or the Jews). Whether this happens
in practice remains to be seen.

If the Constitutional Court consistently delivers this line of judgments,
it could become an effective agent of change in Turkey. However, it cannot
be overlooked that the timing of the judgment in May 2019 played into the
hands of the Constitutional Court and the authorities.

The judgment raised the profile of the Constitutional Court as a high court
delivering a judgment in line with ECtHR jurisprudence. Yet, due to its
timing, the judgment had no impact on rectifying the injustice that the
Armenian community experienced. It also closed the door for an application
to be made to the ECtHR in Strasbourg, thus blocking international
supervision of the implementation of the judgment.

Also as a result of the timing of the judgment, the authorities did not
have to deal with an authoritative judgment on the state's unjustified
interference in the election. (END)

For more background, see Forum 18's Turkey religious freedom survey
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1916__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvHXl2_6Q$
 ), and the Norwegian
Helsinki Committee: Turkey Freedom of Belief Initiative (NHC:IÖG)
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.inancozgurlugugirisimi.org__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Psclo8YMw$
 )

More analyses and commentaries on freedom of thought, conscience and belief
in Turkey
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=68__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PtZH1WMvw$
 )

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Psg4mlNog$
 )

Follow us on Twitter @Forum_18 
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://twitter.com/forum_18__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pt-jFpvig$
 )

Follow us on Facebook @Forum18NewsService
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 )

All Forum 18 text may be referred to, quoted from, or republished in full,
if Forum 18 is credited as the source.

All photographs that are not Forum 18's copyright are attributed to the
copyright owner. If you reuse any photographs from Forum 18's website, you
must seek permission for any reuse from the copyright owner or abide by the
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© Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved. ISSN 1504-2855.

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F18News Summary: Azerbaijan; Turkey

FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PsNA4gKpQ$
 

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief

=================================================

27 March 2020
AZERBAIJAN: "No objection" to limited worship, but no legal right
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2557__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PsT8u19ng$
 
After 25 years, Aliabad's Baptist community, denied legal status the
longest, finally began open worship in January. The State Committee for
Work with Religious Organisations wrote that it had "no objection" to
meetings once a week for two hours. Shia Imam Sardar Babayev, freed after a
three-year sentence for preaching in a mosque with foreign education, will
not resume preaching for fear of renewed criminal prosecution.

25 March 2020
TURKEY: Constitutional Court judgment on Armenian Patriarchal election –
a precedent?
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2556__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pu_M1qNrQ$
 
Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled in May 2019 that state interference in
the election to replace the ailing Armenian Patriarch was not prescribed by
law and not necessary in a democratic society. The precedent is relevant
for similar cases over interference in the internal affairs of other
religious communities, particularly those the state considers Lausanne
Treaty minorities. But any impact remains to be seen.
* See full article below. *

25 March 2020
TURKEY: Constitutional Court judgment on Armenian Patriarchal election –
a precedent?

https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2556__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pu_M1qNrQ$
 
By Dr. Mine Yildirim,

Turkey's Constitutional Court (Anayasa Mahkemesi – AYM) issued an
important judgment in May 2019 addressing state interference in the
election of a religious leader, namely the long-standing obstruction of the
election of a Patriarch for the Armenian community in Turkey. The Court
found such interference not prescribed by law and not necessary in a
democratic society.

The Armenian Apostolic Church community is the largest Christian community
in Turkey.

State interference in the internal affairs of religious or belief
communities is a long-standing concern that impacts a number of religious
or belief communities in critical ways.

In theory, the Constitutional Court judgment could be applied to other
religious communities in Turkey which endure such state interference
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1477__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvoXYsa0Q$
 ). The judgment sets a
precedent and should guide other courts when considering analogous cases,
though whether this happens in practice remains to be seen.

While the judgment includes important findings related to the state's
unjustified interference in the internal affairs of the Armenian community,
it also raises questions about whether the Constitutional Court is an
effective domestic remedy or an actor that conveniently blocks applications
to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, thus closing
the door to international supervision.

The state had prevented the Armenian community from electing its religious
leader between 2009, when the then Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan could no
longer perform his duties due to illness, and 2019, when the community
finally elected Bishop Sahak Mashalyan as the new Patriarch.

The December 2019 election of the new Patriarch became possible only after
the state authorities allowed elections to go ahead following the death in
March 2019 of Mutafyan, the 84th Patriarch of Turkey's Armenians.

The state's obstruction of the election of a Patriarch by the Armenian
community had affected community affairs in very negative ways
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ).

Constitutional court judgment

The Turkish Constitutional Court's judgment of 22 May 2019 on the
individual application made by two local Armenians Levon Berç Kuzukoğlu
and Ohannes Garbis Balmumciyan in 2014 (Application No. 2014/17354) has
significant implications for the interferences in the internal affairs of
religious or belief communities in Turkey.

The applicants had complained that the state's refusal of the request they
made for the election of a Patriarch for Turkey's Armenians violated their
right to freedom of religion.

The Istanbul 3rd Administrative Court rejected Kuzukoğlu and Balmumciyan's
original application on 27 March 2012. It argued that, under the 1863
Regulation for the Armenian Millet (ethno-religious community) and
subsequent Interior Ministry directives (talimatname), the Patriarchal seat
can be considered vacant only following the death or resignation of the
Patriarch.

The Administrative Court ruled that since the Patriarch (Mesrob Mutafyan)
was neither dead nor had given his resignation as of 4 October 1998,
elections could not be held. The Court therefore found that the state's
refusal of the request for a new election was not incompatible with the
law. 

The applicants appealed against this decision, but the Court of Cassation
(10th Chamber) rejected their appeal on 23 November 2015.

Constitutional Court finds state interference not prescribed by law

The Constitutional Court's May 2019 judgment presents an accurate
description of the state interference in the Armenian community's right to
elect its own leader 
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ),
both before the applicants lodged their case and subsequently.

When considering the applicable law, the Constitutional Court refers to the
1863 Regulation for the Armenian Millet (ethno-religious community) and
international legal provisions, including the European Convention on Human
Rights and the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty's provisions on the protection of
non-Muslims in Turkey.

A key question here concerns the relevance of the 1863 Regulation that
regulates the election of Turkey's Armenian Patriarch (Articles 1-7), the
various organs of the Patriarchate and their elections, and the functioning
of the charity and social bodies within the Patriarchate, and also includes
provisions on the Jerusalem Patriarchate (which was in 1863 under the
Ottoman Empire). Article 2 sets out how elections take place when the
Patriarch's seat becomes vacant for various reasons, such as "the death of
the Patriarch, resignation and other".

While the 1863 Regulation is a remnant from the Ottoman era, throughout the
Republican era the state authorities have left the procedure of the four
elections for the Armenian Patriarch that have taken place (in 1950, 1961,
1990, 1998 and 2019) partly unchanged, but with some arbitrary changes.
These have left the Armenian community with only limited influence over its
own election and with no way to foresee what procedures the state would
impose.

For the most part, the election Directives were based on the Cabinet Decree
of 18 September 1961 (No. 511654), which had been issued only for that
year's Patriarchal election and which included no provisions for future
elections. Despite this, the Interior Ministry has continued to use this
Decree.

 

The Interior Ministry's submission to the Constitutional Court states that
the measures taken by the authorities derive from "the state's positive
obligation to organise the religious field".

The Constitutional Court's judgment describes the issue as one that
essentially relates to religious freedom that is protected under Article 24
of Turkey's Constitution. Equally, the Constitutional Court recognises as
relevant the Lausanne Peace Treaty, specifically Article 38 that refers to
the freedom to practice religion, and the applicable jurisprudence of the
ECtHR in Strasbourg.

The Constitutional Court notes that the election of a religious leader
constitutes a form of manifestation of religion and, as such, is protected
under the Constitution.

In addition, the Constitutional Court finds that measures that led to the
appointment of a Patriarchal Vicar-General (in 2010)
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1477__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvoXYsa0Q$
 ) occurred not as a
result of a process that took place within the competing civilian and
spiritual initiatives in the Armenian community, but as a result of "state
pressure that was unconstitutional".

As a result, the Constitutional Court finds that there has been
interference in the Armenian community's right to freedom of religion or
belief, a freedom that is guaranteed under Article 24 of the Constitution.

A crucial finding in the judgment concerns the legality of the restriction.
The Constitutional Court notes that it may be considered that public
authorities have the authority to organise the election of the Armenian
Patriarch under the 1863 Regulation and practice in subsequent elections.

However, the Constitutional Court rules that under Article 13 of the
Constitution, fundamental rights may only be restricted by law. It notes
that, in the present case, a legal provision that can prevent arbitrary
actions by public authorities, that will enable persons to know the law,
that is accessible, foreseeable and absolute is absent. As a result, the
restriction cannot be considered as being prescribed by law.

While the Constitutional Court found that the restrictions pursued a
legitimate aim, that of protecting the right to freedom of religion of the
members of the Armenian community, other criteria for permissible
limitations were not fulfilled.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court noted that events that occurred after
the application was submitted in 2014 demonstrate the state's continuing
desire to determine the conditions under which elections for an Armenian
Patriarch might take place.

In conclusion, the Constitutional Court found that the state has not been
able to demonstrate a pressing social need that overrides the "spirit of
Armenian traditions" and the "Armenian community's will". Therefore the
interference in the applicants' right to freedom of religion or belief by
way of refusing the request to hold Patriarchal elections cannot be
considered compatible with the requirements of a democratic society, and
Article 24 of the Constitution had thus been violated.

The judgment provides an authoritative interpretation of applicable law and
therefore should guide future practice. Patriarch Mashalyan welcomed the
Constitutional Court judgment, adding on 16 March 2020 that "it should be
taken into account in the preparation of directives for elections in the
future".

Sebu Aslangil, the lawyer in the case, commented to Forum 18 in February
2020 that the Constitutional Court judgment is a precedent in its reference
to legality, secularism and the right to freedom of religion or belief.
However, he argued that it is important that these judgments continue and
that similar judgments concerning analogous applications become the norm
for all court decisions.

Constitutional Court - effective domestic remedy in religious freedom
cases?

The Constitutional Court's judgment is thorough and well argued, and the
finding that the restriction on the way the Armenian community chooses its
religious leader was not prescribed by law is particularly significant. On
the other hand, a significant shortcoming of the Constitutional Court's
judgment was its timing.

The application was lodged in 2014, but the Constitutional Court did not
rule until May 2019, two months after the 8 March death of Patriarch Mesrob
Mutafyan. Therefore the judgment came when the state's arguments that an
election could not go ahead no longer existed.

The timing might be interpreted as a sign of the Constitutional Court's
hesitation to contradict state practice in situations where domestic
practice clearly contradicts human rights standards.

Patriarch Mashalyan commented that the Constitutional Court is independent
and therefore the timing of the judgment did not raise any questions.
Aslangil, however, maintained that "had it been issued before the death of
Mesrob Mutafyan, it would have been a very strong judgment".

Where it is evident that legitimising state practice that is not compatible
with human rights law in the area of freedom of religion or belief would
jeopardise the Constitutional Court's position as an effective domestic
remedy, the Court's practice has been to postpone judgment.

That over 20 individual applications on conscientious objection to military
service are still pending with the Constitutional Court is compatible with
this finding. The Constitutional Court had referred an individual
application on conscientious objection to the Plenary Chamber of the
Constitutional Court in 2016. The Court has not yet ruled on any of these
cases.

Patriarchal election interference despite Constitutional Court judgment

After the May 2019 Constitutional Court judgment, the state authorities
continued to interfere in the way the Armenian community elected its new
leader following Patriarch Mutafyan's death two months earlier. The
interference came despite the binding nature of Constitutional Court
judgments for legislative, executive and judicial organs, administrative
authorities, and real and legal persons under Article 153 of the
Constitution.

The Armenian community started the process of electing the 85th Patriarch
by forming an Election Steering Committee (Mütesebbis Heyet). The Interior
Ministry, however, sent the directive for the election which stipulated
that the future Patriarch had to be "from among the class of bishops of the
Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul", that is, those serving directly in
Istanbul. This effectively reduced the pool of candidates to just two.

Views in the Armenian community differed on whether this interference was
in accordance with the law and/or justified. Patriarch Mashalyan considered
the directive as "based on the 1863 Regulation" and not prepared "despite
the Constitutional Court judgment". On the other hand, the lawyer Aslangil
commented that the state administration, including the Interior Ministry
and the Court of Cassation, demonstrated that they were in no way affected
by the judgment.

The Interior Ministry not only changed the criteria for candidates, but
also influenced the election of the Locum Tenens (temporary leader,
Deghabah) so that the election was between only two candidates. "This is
100 per cent in contradiction to the Constitutional Court judgment,"
Aslangil insists. The Election Steering Committee, however, did not object
to the state-imposed changes in the criteria for the elections.

Aslangil appealed to the Administrative Court in October 2019, objecting to
the Interior Ministry's interference in the Patriarchal elections then in
preparation. However, the Administrative Court has yet to give a ruling,
and there is no limit as to how long it can take to do so. According to
Aslangil, were the Administrative Court to reject the application, the
applicants could challenge this decision directly to the Constitutional
Court. However, this could then also cause the 2019 election to "lose its
legitimacy".

Administrative Court and Court of Cassation decisions on non-Muslim
minority issues have, since the 1960s, been overwhelmingly against the
interests of these communities, Aslangil complains.

The latest of these judgments concerned Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian, the
Istanbul-born spiritual leader of Germany's Armenian community. He had
challenged the state's move to annul his election in March 2017 as Locum
Tenens of the Patriarchate
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2352__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Ps-Ch16Ww$
 ). Ankara Administrative
Court ruled in December 2019 that since the new Patriarch has now been
elected, there is no reason for this case to be reviewed. Aslangil objected
to this ruling, which is still awaiting court consideration.

Aslangil, the lawyer, commented that administrative courts do not have the
necessary expertise to deal with these cases and therefore hesitate to give
bold decisions. Asked what needs to be done, he responded: "The
Constitutional Court has to reject our case so that we can go to the
ECtHR."

Only once a case has been considered by the Constitutional Court can
applicants lodge a case to the ECtHR in Strasbourg
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1855__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PtbtVvjmw$
 ).

Commenting on the interference, Garo Paylan, an Armenian MP from the HDP
(Halklarin Demokratik Partisi – People's Democratic Party) at the time
the directive was sent to the Election Steering Committee, told Bianet news
agency on 24 September 2019 that under these circumstances the coming
elections "cannot be called an election".

Paylan pointed out that in previous elections for a new Armenian Patriarch,
candidacy has been open to Armenian clerics from around the world, not just
to those serving directly in the Patriarchate in Istanbul. "There are many
clerics from Sivas, Malatya, Adana and Istanbul, and all of these
candidates were able to participate in all elections, they had the right to
be elected," he added.

Is untimely justice really justice?

The Constitutional Court's May 2019 finding is significant in ruling that
the state interference in the election of an Armenian Patriarch is not
prescribed by law and not necessary in a democratic society. It also sets a
precedent and is thus relevant for similar cases over state interference in
the internal affairs of other religious communities in Turkey, more
specifically those considered as minorities by the state under the Lausanne
Peace Treaty (such as the Greek Orthodox or the Jews). Whether this happens
in practice remains to be seen.

If the Constitutional Court consistently delivers this line of judgments,
it could become an effective agent of change in Turkey. However, it cannot
be overlooked that the timing of the judgment in May 2019 played into the
hands of the Constitutional Court and the authorities.

The judgment raised the profile of the Constitutional Court as a high court
delivering a judgment in line with ECtHR jurisprudence. Yet, due to its
timing, the judgment had no impact on rectifying the injustice that the
Armenian community experienced. It also closed the door for an application
to be made to the ECtHR in Strasbourg, thus blocking international
supervision of the implementation of the judgment.

Also as a result of the timing of the judgment, the authorities did not
have to deal with an authoritative judgment on the state's unjustified
interference in the election. (END)

For more background, see Forum 18's Turkey religious freedom survey
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1916__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvHXl2_6Q$
 ), and the Norwegian
Helsinki Committee: Turkey Freedom of Belief Initiative (NHC:IÖG)
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.inancozgurlugugirisimi.org__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Psclo8YMw$
 )

More analyses and commentaries on freedom of thought, conscience and belief
in Turkey
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=68__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PtZH1WMvw$
 )

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Psg4mlNog$
 )

Follow us on Twitter @Forum_18 
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://twitter.com/forum_18__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8Pt-jFpvig$
 )

Follow us on Facebook @Forum18NewsService
(https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.facebook.com/Forum18NewsService__;!!LIr3w8kk_Xxm!_DLYhLTZUBdln3ksUqnuhfm4oXg8Rsa9moeAlv9Zm4GvvvMSlXvs8PvZSsuhmw$
 )

All Forum 18 text may be referred to, quoted from, or republished in full,
if Forum 18 is credited as the source.

All photographs that are not Forum 18's copyright are attributed to the
copyright owner. If you reuse any photographs from Forum 18's website, you
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RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/27/2020

                                        Thursday, March 03, 2020

Coronavirus Cases In Armenia Keep Rising
March 27, 2020
        • Tatevik Lazarian

Armenia -- Healthcare workers are seen outside the Nork hospital in Yerevan 
which deals with most coronavirus cases in Armenia, March 20, 2020.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia rose by 39 to 329 in the 
past 24 hours, health authorities reported on Friday morning.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian said later in the day that a 72-year-old person 
who died in hospital on Thursday remains the country’s sole fatality from the 
deadly virus.

Torosian said another elderly patient remains in critical condition. “We also 
have one citizen who is in serious condition,” he added in a live Facebook 
transmission. “The lives of the other [infected persons] are not at risk right 
now. Many patients are asymptomatic.”

The latter include a young woman and her two-month-old baby, the minister went 
on. “The child has showed no symptoms [of the disease] while the mother had a 
fever for two days but is showing no symptoms now. They both are in hospital.”

Torosian also reported that ten more people have been cured of the COVID-19 
virus, raising to 28 the total number of such recoveries in Armenia.

According to Armenian government data, Yerevan accounts for around half of the 
infections. The vast majority of the other coronavirus cases were registered in 
the surrounding Armavir, Ararat and Kotayk provinces.

Health authorities have quarantined at least 3,000 people in the last two weeks. 
Officials say around 150 of them have been released from the two-week quarantine 
after repeatedly testing negative for the virus.


Armenia -- A police officer enforcing a coronavirus lockdown checks a woman's 
documents, Yerevan, March 25, 2020.

The Armenian government declared a state of emergency and closed all schools and 
universities on March 16 shortly after reporting the first coronavirus cases. 
Earlier this week, it also ordered the closure of most businesses and imposed 
stringent restrictions on people’s movement in an effort to slow the spread of 
the disease.

Armenians are only allowed out to buy food, receive medical care and briefly 
exercise. When leaving their homes they must carry IDs and filled-out forms 
explaining their reasons for not staying indoors. The Armenian police said that 
in the last three days they have fined more than 1,400 people for not complying 
with these restrictions.

The authorities have also suspended bus services between Yerevan and the rest of 
the country. Deputy Minister for Local Government Armen Simonian told reporters 
on Friday that public transport links among communities located within each of 
the ten provinces outside the Armenian capital will also be temporarily banned.

Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran were closed for travel earlier this 
month. People have since been able to enter and leave the country only by air. 
According to Simonian, only one Belarusian and four Russian airlines continued 
to fly to and from Yerevan on Friday.

This means that Armenia will be effectively cut off from the outside world after 
a Russian government ban on all commercial flights abroad comes into force early 
on Saturday.



‘An Eastern Partnership that delivers for all’
March 27, 2020

An op-ed by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and 
commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.

In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how 
important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern 
Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Armenia and across the 
European Union’s eastern neighbourhood.

The European Union provides Armenian companies, which will be economically hit 
the hardest by the pandemics, with funding, training, and export support to new 
markets, through the EU4Business initiative. Since 2009, the European Union 
loaned the companies in Armenia €500 million, supported 25,000 enterprises and 
created 2,500 new jobs.

The European Union also supports one of the most growing industries in the 
country – tourism. For example, with our help the Dilijan Tourist Information 
Centre and Arts and Crafts Centres were established, together with 11 hiking 
trails in Dilijan National Park and 300 km trails in Syunik, Gegharkunik and 
Vayots Dzor. The tourism projects in Armenia created over 100 new jobs for the 
local population and supported more than 300 local SMEs.

The Pilot Regional Development Programme Grant Scheme ‘EU4Regions: support to 
Regional Development in Armenia’ supported regional and local economic 
development and created 544 new jobs. Under the project, support was provided to 
2,831 individuals to improve their employability, as well as to 719 enterprises. 
This allowed creating 460 new, sustainable jobs.

Over the past 14 years, the European Union has supported Armenian colleges’ 
educational reforms, renovation and upgrading. Over 4,500 students have 
benefited from the reforms supported by the EU, and 17 colleges have been 
renovated. The ‘Organic Agriculture’ training module has been introduced in 15 
colleges. Under Erasmus+ (2014-2020), over 1,800 students and academic staff 
from Armenia have studied or taught in Europe, and 885 Europeans went to 
Armenia. In addition, over 6,800 young people and youth workers took part in 
short-term exchanges, mobility, training and volunteering projects.

To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of 
today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted 
last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries 
from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results 
achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation 
when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance 
and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.

And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term 
objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern 
Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our 
proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing 
cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built 
on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, 
protection of human rights and fight against corruption.

Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following 
objectives:

--Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening 
the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and 
for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic 
opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in 
particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and 
innovation better with private sector needs.

--Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good 
governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful 
anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development 
and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states 
and societies as well as strong economies.

--Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for 
generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with 
its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green 
jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.

--Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in 
the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the 
Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on 
strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the 
cyber resilience of partner countries.

--Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies:Free and fair elections 
together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public 
administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on 
these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient 
space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as 
well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly 
important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.

Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly 
doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted 
from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better 
connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity 
broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted 
international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this 
results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of 
today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.

And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that 
delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.



Armenian Banks Defer Loan Repayments
March 27, 2020

Armenia -- Closed shops in an underground pass in Yerevan, March 27, 2020.

Armenian banks have agreed to suspend loan repayments for tens of thousands of 
individual borrowers and businesses hit hard by economic fallout from by the 
coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Friday.

“The volume of the restructured loans is around 200 billion drams ($404 
million),” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. They were borrowed by around 97,000 
individuals and nearly 3,400 local firms, he said.

The Armenian government last week imposed strict restrictions on people’s 
movement and ordered the closure of most firms to tackle the spread of 
coronavirus. The lockdown has left scores of Armenians facing a loss of jobs and 
income.

The government has faced opposition calls for imposing a blanket freeze on all 
loan repayments. Pashinian rejected those calls when he spoke in the parliament 
on Wednesday. He said the banks should deal with defaulting clients on a 
case-by-case basis.

Pashinian also said on Wednesday that Armenia’s public utility companies have 
agreed not to cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people 
failing to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown.

The national gas distribution network, Gazprom-Armenia, confirmed on Friday that 
it will stop collecting gas fees for February at least until the state of 
emergency in the country ends on April 14.

In a statement, Gazprom-Armenia put the total amount of unpaid gas bills at 4.8 
billion drams. It stressed that only about 7 percent of the sum is owed by 
low-income families receiving poverty benefits.

In a related development, Pashinian’s government approved on Thursday a 
multimillion-dollar stimulus package designed to cushion the broader impact of 
coronavirus. It includes one-off cash payments to citizens who have lost their 
jobs this month as well as financial assistance or credit subsidies to 
businesses and farmers. Pashinian said many banks will also benefit from the 
relief.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

 


RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/27/2020

                                        Thursday, March 03, 2020

Coronavirus Cases In Armenia Keep Rising
March 27, 2020
        • Tatevik Lazarian

Armenia -- Healthcare workers are seen outside the Nork hospital in Yerevan 
which deals with most coronavirus cases in Armenia, March 20, 2020.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia rose by 39 to 329 in the 
past 24 hours, health authorities reported on Friday morning.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian said later in the day that a 72-year-old person 
who died in hospital on Thursday remains the country’s sole fatality from the 
deadly virus.

Torosian said another elderly patient remains in critical condition. “We also 
have one citizen who is in serious condition,” he added in a live Facebook 
transmission. “The lives of the other [infected persons] are not at risk right 
now. Many patients are asymptomatic.”

The latter include a young woman and her two-month-old baby, the minister went 
on. “The child has showed no symptoms [of the disease] while the mother had a 
fever for two days but is showing no symptoms now. They both are in hospital.”

Torosian also reported that ten more people have been cured of the COVID-19 
virus, raising to 28 the total number of such recoveries in Armenia.

According to Armenian government data, Yerevan accounts for around half of the 
infections. The vast majority of the other coronavirus cases were registered in 
the surrounding Armavir, Ararat and Kotayk provinces.

Health authorities have quarantined at least 3,000 people in the last two weeks. 
Officials say around 150 of them have been released from the two-week quarantine 
after repeatedly testing negative for the virus.


Armenia -- A police officer enforcing a coronavirus lockdown checks a woman's 
documents, Yerevan, March 25, 2020.

The Armenian government declared a state of emergency and closed all schools and 
universities on March 16 shortly after reporting the first coronavirus cases. 
Earlier this week, it also ordered the closure of most businesses and imposed 
stringent restrictions on people’s movement in an effort to slow the spread of 
the disease.

Armenians are only allowed out to buy food, receive medical care and briefly 
exercise. When leaving their homes they must carry IDs and filled-out forms 
explaining their reasons for not staying indoors. The Armenian police said that 
in the last three days they have fined more than 1,400 people for not complying 
with these restrictions.

The authorities have also suspended bus services between Yerevan and the rest of 
the country. Deputy Minister for Local Government Armen Simonian told reporters 
on Friday that public transport links among communities located within each of 
the ten provinces outside the Armenian capital will also be temporarily banned.

Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran were closed for travel earlier this 
month. People have since been able to enter and leave the country only by air. 
According to Simonian, only one Belarusian and four Russian airlines continued 
to fly to and from Yerevan on Friday.

This means that Armenia will be effectively cut off from the outside world after 
a Russian government ban on all commercial flights abroad comes into force early 
on Saturday.



‘An Eastern Partnership that delivers for all’
March 27, 2020

An op-ed by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and 
commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.

In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how 
important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern 
Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Armenia and across the 
European Union’s eastern neighbourhood.

The European Union provides Armenian companies, which will be economically hit 
the hardest by the pandemics, with funding, training, and export support to new 
markets, through the EU4Business initiative. Since 2009, the European Union 
loaned the companies in Armenia €500 million, supported 25,000 enterprises and 
created 2,500 new jobs.

The European Union also supports one of the most growing industries in the 
country – tourism. For example, with our help the Dilijan Tourist Information 
Centre and Arts and Crafts Centres were established, together with 11 hiking 
trails in Dilijan National Park and 300 km trails in Syunik, Gegharkunik and 
Vayots Dzor. The tourism projects in Armenia created over 100 new jobs for the 
local population and supported more than 300 local SMEs.

The Pilot Regional Development Programme Grant Scheme ‘EU4Regions: support to 
Regional Development in Armenia’ supported regional and local economic 
development and created 544 new jobs. Under the project, support was provided to 
2,831 individuals to improve their employability, as well as to 719 enterprises. 
This allowed creating 460 new, sustainable jobs.

Over the past 14 years, the European Union has supported Armenian colleges’ 
educational reforms, renovation and upgrading. Over 4,500 students have 
benefited from the reforms supported by the EU, and 17 colleges have been 
renovated. The ‘Organic Agriculture’ training module has been introduced in 15 
colleges. Under Erasmus+ (2014-2020), over 1,800 students and academic staff 
from Armenia have studied or taught in Europe, and 885 Europeans went to 
Armenia. In addition, over 6,800 young people and youth workers took part in 
short-term exchanges, mobility, training and volunteering projects.

To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of 
today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted 
last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries 
from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results 
achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation 
when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance 
and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.

And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term 
objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern 
Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our 
proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing 
cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built 
on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, 
protection of human rights and fight against corruption.

Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following 
objectives:

--Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening 
the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and 
for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic 
opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in 
particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and 
innovation better with private sector needs.

--Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good 
governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful 
anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development 
and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states 
and societies as well as strong economies.

--Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for 
generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with 
its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green 
jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.

--Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in 
the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the 
Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on 
strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the 
cyber resilience of partner countries.

--Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies:Free and fair elections 
together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public 
administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on 
these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient 
space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as 
well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly 
important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.

Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly 
doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted 
from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better 
connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity 
broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted 
international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this 
results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of 
today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.

And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that 
delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.



Armenian Banks Defer Loan Repayments
March 27, 2020

Armenia -- Closed shops in an underground pass in Yerevan, March 27, 2020.

Armenian banks have agreed to suspend loan repayments for tens of thousands of 
individual borrowers and businesses hit hard by economic fallout from by the 
coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Friday.

“The volume of the restructured loans is around 200 billion drams ($404 
million),” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. They were borrowed by around 97,000 
individuals and nearly 3,400 local firms, he said.

The Armenian government last week imposed strict restrictions on people’s 
movement and ordered the closure of most firms to tackle the spread of 
coronavirus. The lockdown has left scores of Armenians facing a loss of jobs and 
income.

The government has faced opposition calls for imposing a blanket freeze on all 
loan repayments. Pashinian rejected those calls when he spoke in the parliament 
on Wednesday. He said the banks should deal with defaulting clients on a 
case-by-case basis.

Pashinian also said on Wednesday that Armenia’s public utility companies have 
agreed not to cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people 
failing to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown.

The national gas distribution network, Gazprom-Armenia, confirmed on Friday that 
it will stop collecting gas fees for February at least until the state of 
emergency in the country ends on April 14.

In a statement, Gazprom-Armenia put the total amount of unpaid gas bills at 4.8 
billion drams. It stressed that only about 7 percent of the sum is owed by 
low-income families receiving poverty benefits.

In a related development, Pashinian’s government approved on Thursday a 
multimillion-dollar stimulus package designed to cushion the broader impact of 
coronavirus. It includes one-off cash payments to citizens who have lost their 
jobs this month as well as financial assistance or credit subsidies to 
businesses and farmers. Pashinian said many banks will also benefit from the 
relief.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

 


Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK
Flagship vote put on back burner while country deals with Covid-19.
By Manya Israyelyan

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s signature policy of judicial reform has been thrown into jeopardy by the coronavirus pandemic, with a promised referendum on constitutional reforms postponed indefinitely.

The state of emergency imposed on March 17 means the scheduled April 5 vote, which envisages the dismissal of seven of the nine acting members of the constitutional court, can no longer go ahead.

(See Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?)

The range of nation-wide limitations imposed in response to the pandemic, which include restrictions on freedom of movement, the closing of restaurants and cafes as well as all educational institutions, will last at least until April 16. However, it is likely that this period will be extended.

The official referendum campaign began on February 17 and was intended to last until April 3, with Pashinyan himself having intended to take leave from his prime ministerial duties to focus on the vote.

“In a state of emergency, a referendum cannot be held in the country. It must take place after the state of emergency, no earlier than 50 days and no later than 65 days,” he told a special meeting of the national assembly on March 16.

The postponement was a particularly severe blow as Pashinyan’s administration has repeatedly advocated the necessity of restoring judicial independence as an essential conclusion to 2018’s so-called Velvet Revolution.

The amendment envisages the removal of judges, most notably Hrayr Tovmasyan, who are widely perceived as too close to the former government.

Tovmasyan is seen as one of the last prominent representations of the Republican Party, and widely credited with tailoring the December 2015 constitutional amendments to fit former premier Serzh Sargsyan’s ambitions for life-long governance. This also resulted in Tovmasyan’s appointment as head of the constitutional body until he reached pension age in 2035. 

Nina Karapetyants, chairwoman of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights, told IWPR that the constitutional court represented the previous authorities rather than the country.

 “This is a fact that was proven each time the court made a decision regarding post-election cases,” Karapetyants said.  

Political commentator Hakob Badalyan said that while the proposed changes to the court would only tackle the issue of its composition rather than its independence, the move would still increase public trust in the judicial process.

“Having an independent judiciary is a matter of a rather long process, it is not realistic to expect an independent judiciary within a few months,” he continued.

“Independence requires institutional solutions for which we have a long way to go. But in this case we will at least have a Constitutional Court that truly enjoys public trust because public attitude towards that court is mediated by the attitude towards the government.”

Delaying their flagship policy will come as a blow to the ruling party, especially as some have criticised the government as having been too slow to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

But political scientist Armen Baghdasaryan told IWPR that this would not permanently frustrate the plans for judicial reform.

“The measures taken over the virus, though belated, inspire hope that it will be overcome in the emergency period,” he said. “Whether the referendum will or will not take place in the summer, I can’t say. But it is also possible that it will be delayed for a longer period to carry out overall constitutional amendments instead of merely changing judges.”

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh is not going to change the date of its parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for March 31. The central election committee introduced a number of preventive measures to try and hamper the spread of infection when people turn out to vote.

Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK
Flagship vote put on back burner while country deals with Covid-19.
By Manya Israyelyan

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s signature policy of judicial reform has been thrown into jeopardy by the coronavirus pandemic, with a promised referendum on constitutional reforms postponed indefinitely.

The state of emergency imposed on March 17 means the scheduled April 5 vote, which envisages the dismissal of seven of the nine acting members of the constitutional court, can no longer go ahead.

(See Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?)

The range of nation-wide limitations imposed in response to the pandemic, which include restrictions on freedom of movement, the closing of restaurants and cafes as well as all educational institutions, will last at least until April 16. However, it is likely that this period will be extended.

The official referendum campaign began on February 17 and was intended to last until April 3, with Pashinyan himself having intended to take leave from his prime ministerial duties to focus on the vote.

“In a state of emergency, a referendum cannot be held in the country. It must take place after the state of emergency, no earlier than 50 days and no later than 65 days,” he told a special meeting of the national assembly on March 16.

The postponement was a particularly severe blow as Pashinyan’s administration has repeatedly advocated the necessity of restoring judicial independence as an essential conclusion to 2018’s so-called Velvet Revolution.

The amendment envisages the removal of judges, most notably Hrayr Tovmasyan, who are widely perceived as too close to the former government.

Tovmasyan is seen as one of the last prominent representations of the Republican Party, and widely credited with tailoring the December 2015 constitutional amendments to fit former premier Serzh Sargsyan’s ambitions for life-long governance. This also resulted in Tovmasyan’s appointment as head of the constitutional body until he reached pension age in 2035. 

Nina Karapetyants, chairwoman of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights, told IWPR that the constitutional court represented the previous authorities rather than the country.

 “This is a fact that was proven each time the court made a decision regarding post-election cases,” Karapetyants said.  

Political commentator Hakob Badalyan said that while the proposed changes to the court would only tackle the issue of its composition rather than its independence, the move would still increase public trust in the judicial process.

“Having an independent judiciary is a matter of a rather long process, it is not realistic to expect an independent judiciary within a few months,” he continued.

“Independence requires institutional solutions for which we have a long way to go. But in this case we will at least have a Constitutional Court that truly enjoys public trust because public attitude towards that court is mediated by the attitude towards the government.”

Delaying their flagship policy will come as a blow to the ruling party, especially as some have criticised the government as having been too slow to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

But political scientist Armen Baghdasaryan told IWPR that this would not permanently frustrate the plans for judicial reform.

“The measures taken over the virus, though belated, inspire hope that it will be overcome in the emergency period,” he said. “Whether the referendum will or will not take place in the summer, I can’t say. But it is also possible that it will be delayed for a longer period to carry out overall constitutional amendments instead of merely changing judges.”

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh is not going to change the date of its parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for March 31. The central election committee introduced a number of preventive measures to try and hamper the spread of infection when people turn out to vote.

Russia’s border restrictions not to affect cargo transportation to Armenia

Public Radio of Armenia

Russia’s border restrictions not to affect cargo transportation to Armenia

Public Radio of Armenia