BAKU: ACNIS Completes Its Series Of Seminars On National MinoritiesW

ACNIS COMPLETES ITS SERIES OF SEMINARS ON NATIONAL MINORITIES WITH NEW
BENCHMARKS

Noyan Tapan
2 Sept 04

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, diplomatic corps,
international organizations, NGO and media communities to discuss
issues on Armenian national minorities and their rights in light of the
Report on 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 interested 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 agencies 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 relying
on the intergovernmental instruments. Khachikian is convinced that
national minorities are more of 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 draft Law on National
Minorities worked out 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 worth mentioning
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 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 language is not the lack of the law but the
lack of educators and textbooks. “Nothing practical is undertaken
to face the challenge. Moreover, sometimes the contradictions in the
same community lead to conflicting actions,” he remarked.

Edgar Hakobian of “Toward Free Society” concluded the second session
with remarks on encouraging the youth of national minorities to take
active part in the statewide youth policy and other initiatives,
otherwise they will remain isolated of 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; Lavrenti Mirzoyan of State Inspectorate of Language;
Ara Sahakian of “Armat” Center; Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian
Helsinki Committee; Georgi Vanian of Caucasus Center of Peace-Making
Initiatives NGO; Gayane Markosian of the “Harmonious World” NGO;
Alexander Yaskorski 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 towards the representatives
of the particular stratum of society. Lavrenti 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. Brisk discussion
was followed on the expediency of adoption of law on national
minorities. Charkyaze Mstoyan, chairman of the “Kurdistan” committee
was against its adoption as in his opinion it can be a “strait-jacket”
for them. Rabbi Gersh Bourstein thinks that the law should first be
discussed in the communities and only after then be 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 exercised.

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 or the full graphics of the
poll results, call (3741) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (3741) 52-48-46;
e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]; or visit

http://www.acnis.am

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