July 30, 2009

NCI Examines Xenophobia in Armenia


Yerevan?Today, the National Citizens? Initiative (NCI) convened a roundtable discussion on the topic of ?Xenophobia in Armenia.? The meeting brought together NGO officials, human rights advocates, analysts, members of international organizations, and several others.

Welcoming the audience with opening remarks, NCI coordinator Hovsep Khurshudian pointed to those dangers that xenophobia includes, and specifically to homophobia as well as intolerance toward others? political views and freedom of religion. ?Countries like Armenia, which faces numerous foreign challenges, cannot allow the entrenchment of phenomena like xenophobia, which imperils social unity,? Khurshudian said. ?Sadly, however, this awareness is virtually absent particularly among the ruling political circles, and, with their actions and especially through the electronic media, the authorities contribute to this troubling phenomenon?s entrenchment among social awareness.?

The day?s first speaker, director Artur Sakunts of the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Civil Assembly, spoke about intolerance toward other political views. Presenting the roots of political intolerance in Armenia, he drew attention to the recent centuries, when Armenia was under the domination of foreign empires and states, and, in result, the open development of the political culture was hindered. According to Sakunts, however, ?in the case when people are fired from their jobs for their political convictions, and when the entrepreneurs? private properties are confiscated because of their political positions, the aforesaid history cannot justify the work method of the Armenian authorities.? Sakunts also underscored the imperative of institutional reforms.         

In his intervention, Mamikon Hovsepian of the ?Public Information and Need For Knowledge? NGO discussed the alarming extent of homophobia in Armenia. According to Hovsepian, this phenomenon is widespread in the army and the media, and high-level officials and leading representatives of the ruling political party are encouraging homophobia. And all this, as maintained by Hovsepian, is taking place against the backdrop of the incumbent Armenian authorities? periodical assumption, from various international bodies, of commitments to carry out measures against homophobia. In Hovsepian?s view, the assumption of these commitments is ?a mere formality and solely steps toward deceiving the European structures, and this does not affect, whatsoever, the authorities? true steps taken in that direction.? Hovsepian also noted that, parallel to the growing reduction in the level of education and the deepening lack of knowledge, homophobia was becoming more widespread in the country.

The next speaker, chairman Stepan Danielian of the Cooperation for Democracy Center, presented the amendments which the ruling political party had proposed for the law on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations, and also pointed to the dangers these amendments can bring forth. He remarked that the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR, and the Council of Europe?s General Department on Human Rights jointly had expressed a negative view with respect to these amendments. ?This bill, which passed through the Armenian National Assembly floor, in the first reading, will greatly curtail the freedom of religion, and this conflicts with the Armenian Constitution and the international agreements,? Danielian maintained. 

In the shared view of the roundtable participants, xenophobia is truly perilous for the Armenian society and comprehensive counter measures are indispensable, but, to that end, no hope can be placed on the authorities in office. According to the panel discussants, it is impossible to resolve this problem exclusively by way of institutional reforms, because the laws simply are not executed and their mechanisms for execution are either lacking or flawed.

In his closing remarks, NCI coordinator Hovsep Khurshudian argued that, unfortunately, the logic of the political developments is paving the way for one-party rule, with the alternative of Soviet totalitarianism, and, parallel to this, by violating the constitutionally-protected separation of the state and the Church, and freedom of conscience of the citizens, the very same attempt also is being made in the sphere of religion. ?In order to disallow such developments, the body politic must unite and work more effectively and in a more coordinated fashion,? Khurshudian concluded.

For further information on the National Citizens’ Initiative, please call (37410) 27-16-00 or 27-00-03; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email .


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