To the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination CERD 92 Session Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” and Civil Society Institute – Armenia

Speech at informal briefing with the Committee

In today’s Armenia, ethnic minorities are still often discriminated – there is predominance of cultural and social stereotypes towards people that are not ethnically Armenian and have a different religion to that prevailing in Armenia. This concerns people who recently arrived on Armenian territory, such as Syrian refugees or people of African origin, for example. However, it also includes people who have lived in Armenia for centuries, such as Bosha, Yezidi and Assyrians minorities.

Cultural and social stereotypes are grounded in the celebration of the Armenian people, a 98% majority of the population, and the Armenian culture. The fact that ethnic Armenians constitute an absolute majority of the population (11 recognized ethnic minorities constitute about 2%) is often used by authorities and other actors to justify and explain their failure to respect ethnic minorities’ rights.

  • There was information that the Anti-Discrimination law is supposed to be adapted in 2017, but there is no publication of any draft or concept in Armenia. No information we have about measures against racial discrimination in it. Legislation still fails to provide a clear definition of racism, or direct or indirect racial discrimination. As a consequence, racial discrimination is practically never followed by a legal procedure.
  • There are right-wing radical parties with dangerous rhetoric – such as popular slogan “One nation – one religion” of “Armenian Eagles” – but even some members of the Government support such nationalistic organisations.
  • Hate speech in Internet and social networks indicates high level of intolerance: there are stories of very negative reactions on publication of photographs from “mixed families”: one such family suffered a real attack after they published a picture in traditional Armenian clothes, while the father of this family looked African; the picture had to be deleted, after more than 1000 persons had reacted negatively. Persons of African origin ( still very few in the country) face racist attitude – there are reports of students refusing to take lessons from African teacher and of children throwing stones towards African by-passer.
  • Remaining problem: Negative attitude to people from Azerbaijan and Turkey (Due to the past conflicts the relations of the peoples of these neighboring countries are still tense, however there are contacts in trade and business, inter-ethnic marriages and children, who suffer from the historically problematic relations).
  • Tolerance to persons from different cultural and religious background is not included in the system of education and public relations (although Armenia is situated next to the predominantly Muslim region, there is almost no recognition of the idea of a multi-religious society). According to the Armenian Constitution, all schools in Armenia should be secular. However, a course called “The History of the Armenian Church” is imposed on all children from primary school age, and exclusively teaches the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church. This course is approved by representatives of the clergy, and the Armenian Apostolic Church has the right to participate in the development of the program and textbooks for the course, as well as to nominate and evaluate its teachers. In practice, the entire teaching process for this course is controlled by the Church. According to the representative of the National Institute of Education, Hasmik Margaryan, religion classes are necessary in schools to “teach the system of values”, to “round up Armenian spirituality”, and to guaranty the future of the Armenian nation. No alternatives are offered to students of other religious groups or atheists. These children are also not allowed to skip these classes and must perform religious rites in class or, as reported in the case of Ezidi children in some schools, must stay in school corridors while the others pray in the classroom. Similar problems face religious Christian minority of Russian-speaking Molokans who often drop out of schools. Early marriage and gender discrimination in these groups meet no opposition as there are not integration efforts.
  • Nothing is done to preserve the unique culture, language and traditions of Bosha (Romani-like group in Armenia) and not much is done to support the respect to other landless minorities and their cultures – Assyrians, Yezidi (There is information about discriminative attitude that force these groups into isolation and even to complete assimilation). We mark the problem of bullying in schools and Universities of non-Armenian children and foreign students (we have evidence of problems faced by those who come from other countries, speak Armenian in a different way than local people, look differently or have unusual names).
  • Last – not least Armenia refuses to accept refugees from Syria and other war-affected countries of non-Armenian origin (Yezidis, Syrians, Iranian, Afghanis and others)
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