National Minority Rights on ACNIS Agenda

Armenian Center for National and International Studies
75 Yerznkian Street
Yerevan 375033, Armenia
Tel: (+374 – 1) 52.87.80 or 27.48.18
Fax: (+374 – 1) 52.48.46
E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]

May 13, 2004

National Minority Rights on ACNIS Agenda

Yerevan-The fourth specialized policy seminar of the Armenian Center for
National and International Studies (ACNIS) and the Council of Europe’s
Confidence-building Measures Program convened today at the Armenia Marriott
Hotel. Held within the framework of the “Coordination among National
Minorities and Information Exchanges on Minority Rights in Armenia” Project,
the meeting was entitled “The Key Provisions of the Draft Law on National
Minorities: Old End or New Beginning?,” and brought together the leaders of
national minority and NGO communities, relevant government officials, human
rights advocates, academic circles, politicians, diplomats, public figures,
and representatives of mass media and international organizations concerned
about minority issues in Armenia.

Karapet Kalenchian, ACNIS’s director of administration, greeted the capacity
audience with opening remarks on behalf of the Center, wishing the
participants a productive deliberation. “Armenia should be the guarantor of
the national minorities residing here and we, as full members of society,
should support final resolution of these problems.” Kalenchian called on the
audience to engage in a robust and open discussion.

ACNIS analyst and project director Stepan Safarian underscored the
importance of the adoption of a law on national minorities, which is a
public imperative today in several aspects. “Though the national minorities
residing in Armenia are granted rights stipulated in the Constitution, laws,
and international agreements and treaties, they are often deprived of the
mechanisms and procedures to enjoy them. In addition, the law will promote
the precise definition of the state’s obligations in the fields of culture,
education, language, and the protection of traditions. Finally, it will
delineate minority problems, means and competent levels of resolution, and
decision- making mechanisms,” he said.

During the first session, entitled “Defining ‘National Minority’ by Law,”
Shavarsh Khachatrian, minorities expert at the Helsinki Committee of Armenia
and research fellow of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, reflected
on the difficulties one encounters in applying the definition of national
minority found in the legislation of European states. In his paper, titled
“Defining ‘National Minorities’ in the International and National Arenas:
The European Experience,” he presented the contradictory perceptions of the
definition of “national minority” against the backdrop of European
experience, as well as the trends that are assumed and should be considered
while applying the law. “There are several key issues to pay attention to:
the Framework Convention does not provide a universally accepted definition
of ‘national minority’, and then the definitions used today by states are
very often arguable, since no agreement has been reached on the criteria for
such definitions by the consultative committee set up by the Framework
Convention,” said Khachatrian.

“Major risks of the law on national minorities and means to overcome them”
constituted the focus of an address by Hranush Kharatian, chairperson of the
National and Religious Minorities Board of the Government of Armenia. She
expressed concern that the referenced law might also bring forth certain
limitations, as a result of which rights relating to the language and
culture of individual representatives of the national minorities or persons
finding themselves out of the “community” group will remain solely within
the framework of individual rights. “In any case, this or that manifestation
of the right may be viewed as advantageous for some, and ‘risky’ for
others,” Kharatian concluded.

Armenian ombudsperson Larisa Alaverdian, who concentrated mainly on the
mechanisms that can effectively provide the rights protection of national
minorities, was of the opinion that the problem should be comprehensively
discussed and a consequent concept paper should be worked out before
adoption of such a law. “No matter how hard it is, we should have the law if
there is a demand for it. Otherwise it can turn into a formal document
without force, unable to protect the group rights of the community,” noted
the rights defender.

The second session on “Active State Policy in the Educational and Cultural
Life of National Minorities and Its Stipulation in Armenian Legislation”
began with the presentation by Nouridjan Manoukian, chief of the Control
Department at the Board of Secondary Education of the Ministry of Education
and Science, on “The Key Provisions of Active State Policy in the Sphere of
National Minorities’ Education.” The major obstacle one encounters while
receiving education in a mother tongue, he maintained, is not the lack of
the law but the lack of educators and textbooks which results a close
circle. “For want of educators there is a lack of graduates, for want of
graduates there is a lack of applicants to higher educational institutions,
for want of applicants to higher educational institutions there is a lack of
educators,” stressed the government official.

The session concluded with a paper on “The State’s Cultural Policy in
Preserving, Developing, and Disseminating the Culture of National Minorities
Residing in Armenia” delivered by Garnik Guyumdjian, chief of the Department
for State Programs, Cultural Cooperation, Education and Science of the
Ministry of Culture and Youth Issues. In his view, the following benchmarks
are of importance in this field: encouraging creative activity, preserving
cultural heritage, disseminating cultural values, realizing human potential,
and the legally and economically regulating cultural development. As to the
need for a law on national minorities, Guyumdjian argued that sufficient
protections already exist. “We moreso need today to support the cultural
organizations and compatriotic unions of national minorities with clear-cut
programs and to make them participants in policy making and implementation

The seminar was followed by a lively roundtable of views among Siaband
Bakoyan, chairman of the “Ezdikhana” association’s political council;
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; Arsen Mikhailov, chairman of the “Atur” Assyrian union; Irina
Gasparian, representative of the Assyrian community; Charkyaze Mstoyan,
chairman of the “Kurdistan” committee; Slava Rafaelidis, representative of
the Greek community and chairman of the Council of Armenian Nationalities;
Romania Yavir, chairperson of the Ukrainian community in Armenia; Aida
Haroutiunian, chairperson of “Harmony” NGO; ACNIS analyst Hovsep
Khurshudian; Armenouhi Hovannisian, executive director of Junior Achievement
of Armenia; Vardan Astsatrian, the coordinator on national minorities and
religious issues of the social department of the Armenian government;
parliamentarian Vazgen Khachikain; Gayane Terzian, representative of the
“Mkhitar Sebastatsi” educational complex; Mara Sahakian, chairperson of the
Civitas NGO; Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee; and
Gayane Markosian of the “Harmonious World” NGO.

Despite some reservations, the discussants underlined the importance of the
law on national minorities, and made practical proposals for enforcement of
national policy in educational, academic, and cultural life and in other

The fifth and final seminar in ACNIS’s minorities series, entitled “The
Rights of Armenian National Minorities in 2003: An Annual Report to the
Council of Europe,” will take place in June, and will be followed by
preparation of a comprehensive report on Armenia’s minorities for the
Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Founded in 1994 by Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K.
Hovannisian and supported by 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 (3741)
52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (3741) 52-48-46; e-mail [email protected] or
[email protected]; or visit at