F18News: Religious conscientious objector forcibly taken to NK

FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway

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

================================================
Thursday 6 January 2005
ARMENIA: RELIGIOUS CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR FORCIBLY TAKEN TO
NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Armen Grigoryan, a religious conscientious objector who is seriously
contemplating becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, has been forcibly taken by the
Armenian authorities from Armenia to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh,
Forum 18 News Service has learnt. After he was beaten up, Grigoryan was
forced to stand in his underwear in front of about 1,800 soldiers to tell
them why he refused to do military service. “He told everyone present
that his rejection was based on his religious beliefs and his study of the
Bible,” his father told Forum 18. This is the first instance known to
Forum 18 of an Armenian religious conscientious objector being forcibly
taken to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has repeatedly broken
its promises to the Council of Europe on the treatment of conscientious
objectors. Grigoryan has now escaped from the military and has written to
the Armenian authorities from his hiding place, to say that he is prepared
to do alternative civilian service.

ARMENIA: RELIGIOUS CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR FORCIBLY TAKEN TO
NAGORNO-KARABAKH

By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

An eighteen-year-old Armenian citizen, Armen Grigoryan – who is from a
Jehovah’s Witness family, has attended their meetings and is seriously
contemplating baptism as a Jehovah’s Witness – was summoned to the military
recruitment office in the Armenian capital Yerevan under a pretext on 21
June 2004. Within 24 hours and against his will he had been taken out of
Armenia and transferred to a military unit across the border in
Nagorno-Karabakh.

On refusing to swear the military oath and sing the national anthem for
religious reasons at the second regiment base in Martuni region of eastern
Karabakh, his father Hovhanes Grigoryan told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 5
January, Armen Grigoryan was beaten by Lieutenant Shakaryan (first name
unknown) and Captain Hovhanes Danielyan. With the help of his father,
Grigoryan wrote to several government departments and human rights
organisations but “it worsened his situation”.

Lieutenant-General Vladik Khachatryan ordered that legal proceedings be
instituted against Grigoryan. At the instigation of the prosecutor’s
assistant, he was stripped and forced to stand in his underwear in front of
about 1,800 soldiers in the unit to tell them why he refused to do military
service. “He told everyone present that his rejection was based on his
religious beliefs and his study of the Bible,” Hovhanes Grigoryan told
Forum 18. “He explained that he had asked to be provided with civilian
alternative service. Then he was offered military alternative service which
he rejected.”

In the presence of the unit commander, Grigoryan again wrote an application
for civilian alternative service to Armenia’s ombudsperson, Larisa
Alaverdyan. Alverdyan has in the past denied to Forum 18 that jailing
Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors breaks Armenia’s Council of
Europe and OSCE commitments, and has blamed Jehovah’s Witnesses for the
problems they face from the Armenian government (see F18News 3 August 2004
).

After a month Armen Grigoryan was briefly hospitalised with gastritis, but
after a visit from an official of the procuracy escaped from his military
unit in Karabakh on 25 August and is now being hunted. His father, whose
other son spent several years in prison in Armenia for refusing military
service on grounds of religious conscience, told Forum 18 that Armen
Grigoryan has written to the Armenian authorities from his hiding place to
say he is prepared to do alternative civilian service.

A Baptist young man from Nagorno-Karabakh, Gagik Mirzoyan, who also refused
because of his faith to serve in the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces, was
also beaten up, and is currently been held in an unknown location by the
authorities. Relatives have been denied information about his location and
acess to him, and Ministry would only tell Forum 18 that he “is still
alive.” (See F18News 6 January 2005
).

Nagorno-Karabakh’s deputy foreign minister Masis Mailyan told Forum 18,
from Stepanakert on 5 January, that the issue of why Grigoryan was forcibly
transferred against his will from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh was an issue
for the Armenian authorities. As for the maltreatment in the unit in
Karabakh, Mailyan said he had no information.

Armenia has promised the Council of Europe that it will introduce
alternative civilian service and free religious prisoners of conscience
imprisoned for conscientious objection, but has repeatedly broken these
promises (see F18News 19 October 2004
). Deputy foreign minister
Mailyan insisted to Forum 18 that “laws on subjects that form part of
Armenia’s obligations under the Council of Europe also extend to the
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” Mailyan however, also claimed that the
Karabakh armed forces are under local control, not under the control of
Armenia (see F18News 6 January 2005
).

Nagorno-Karabakh has been under martial law since 1992, and imposes
restrictions on civil liberties, including banning the activity of
“religious sects and unregistered organisations”, banning
demonstrations and imposing media censorship. Officials claim that only
“registered organisations” can hold meetings, and the only
religious community to have registration is the Armenian Apostolic Church
– effectively Karabakh’s state church. Baptists have faced continued
harassment from the authorities but although other communities –
including Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses – have faced
problems, pressures have generally eased in recent years.

A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is
available at
;Rootmap=azerba
within the map titled ‘Azerbaijan’.

A printer-friendly map of Armenia is available at
;Roo tmap=armeni
(END)

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