Armenian News Network / Groong June 1998 By Onnik Krikorian Paruir Hairikian is a former Soviet dissident, a Presidential candidate, and the current Presidential Advisor on Human Rights. OK: Could you please describe the function of your role as the Presidential Advisor on Human Rights, and the role and function of the Committee examining the basis for Constitutional Reform in Armenia. PH: The Committee is mainly on an advisory basis, and unlike other similar committees functioning all over the world it is not independent. However, there is no pressure from above - from the President. This Committee is adjacent to the Government, and to the President. All over the world similar committees and institutions dealing with human rights are completely independent, but our staff and structure is decided by the Parliament and functions under the auspices of the Parliament. In democratic constitutional countries human rights is included in the constitution. Consequently, in the past we were of the opinion that we do not need a special committee for human rights and that the Constitutional Court, being at the highest judicial level, might deal with these issues. Robert Kocharian - the President - was responsible for the initiative in founding a committee to deal with the issue of human rights. I collaborated with the President in the election campaign on the understanding that improvements in the level of democracy in Armenia were promoted. Robert Kocharian chose my candidacy to unite two functions - human rights and constitutional reform. In this respect I consider it a great improvement in the political life of Armenia - political reform should be conditioned by an improvement in human rights. The key function of this committee will be to develop legislation in human rights, in addition to other tasks. Some fifty people write to me every day appealing for help but not all of their complaints fall under our remit. OK: Are many of those appeals from ethnic minorities or Jehovah witnesses? PH: Jehovah Witnesses. OK: The conscription issue? PH: Yes, on the issue of freedom of conscience. However, on an official level we are not against freedom of conscience but all the citizens of Armenia have responsibilities expected of them. OK: I have read the Amnesty International report dealing with Jehovah Witnesses in Armenia, and the conclusion was that whilst Amnesty was not against a policy of conscription, it did feel that those not wishing to take up arms be given other non-combatant positions within the military. PH: This is a completely acceptable approach, and those countries that manage to get to a point where human rights are so enshrined within the constitution that the responsibility for defending your country is compulsory but with alternative choices available, we can really progress with human rights and democracy. I hope that we will be in this situation in Armenia very soon. OK: I was pleased to see, although only using the Yezidi as a focus, that ethnic minorities seem to be free of persecution in Armenia. However, one person did say that he believed that there were racially motivated attacks and slurs on the Yezidi in Armenia. He felt that that there was no legal framework in place for the protection of minorities in the Republic of Armenia. PH: All of the citizens of Armenia are to some extent deprived of complete legal protection within the Republic of Armenia, and it is true that the Yezidi are in this situation too. In many countries there may be fanatics, but any hooligan can be referred to the authorities. Of course, we have many jokes and anecdotes about the Yezidi but so too about Armenians living in specific regions of the country - and these jokes are generally more severe than the jokes about the Yezidi. OK: And from my own personal experience from the Armenian Archbishop in London, many jokes about people called Onnik... PH: [laughs] OK: However, one common complaint from virtually every Yezidi I spoke to was with regards to their desire to have some form of political representation within Parliament. PH: You come from England? Is there official representation for minorities in England? OK: No, but it is not a very fair system anyway. However, there are campaigns and processes with a view to the devolution of power within Scotland, within Wales, and within Northern Ireland. And, of course, there are Members of Parliament from the Indian community, the Pakistani community, and the Afro-Carribean community amongst others. PH: There are official representatives in [the British] Parliament? OK: Not official representatives, but people from those ethnic minorities who have stood for election as candidates for the mainstream political parties, and very often because of a policy of "positive discrimination". PH: We could allow one seat for Yezidi, two seats for Jewish, three seats for Russians, but we would be limiting the rights of every citizen of Armenia - which would not be acceptable. What matters is whether an individual is a good politician. If there is a good Yezidi politician he can stand for election. There are different opinions on this issue in the committee, but I think that the citizens of Armenia should enjoy equal rights no matter what their ethnicity. Any other kind of mentality is typical for Asian countries, Moslem countries, and developing countries. There are many ways to show respect for minorities, but to artificially take into the National Assembly a national minority representative without election is a false way of showing that. OK: To what extent are you in touch with representatives from the minorities in Armenia? PH: The Committee meets with minority representatives regularly. OK: On what level are you involved internationally on the issue of human rights? PH: At present I do not represent human rights issues in the international arena. However, I do get many invitations to participate in international conferences and seminars on human rights issues. OK: With your history as a dissident within the Soviet Union, and Kocharian's history as the President of a minority within the Republic of Azerbaijan [Nagorno Karabagh], what influence has this had on the potential for the evolution and observance of human rights within the Republic of Armenia? PH: It is true that I was a dissident, but my activities and opinions today are not based on my past as a dissident. I have been an activist in the national liberation movement and I am a political activist now. I am in this position because of my desire to initiate constitutional reform. OK: It is good to hear an official in Armenia not make themselves appear on a much higher level than they really are. PH: These people are very dangerous - they always assume that they are on the top, and they believe that everyone knows that they are on the top. I announced my candidacy in the Presidential election because everyone knew that the old powers were standing with the assistance of Levon Ter-Petrossian's friends. My supporters and I found in Robert Kocharian a potential for many reforms in Armenia, and in particular for constitutional reform. Initially I wanted to be President because I had many ideas for constitutional reform but, apart for the sake of this issue [constitutional reform], I do not want to be a prisoner again. A President is a "prisoner" and I have already spent eighteen years in prisons. I do not want to spend another four years as a prisoner. I want instead to concentrate on my work dealing with human rights and constitutional reform. Now we have to prepare a change in the constitution, and to make human rights a much larger concern in this country and to make the government more representative of the people in three forms . [shows diagram of the proposed constitutional and governmental structure illustrated as a set of balancing scales] Executive power, Legislative power, and Judicial power. There should be a balance of all three with the people providing the centre of that balance. If one branch of the power structure cuts its connection with the people, then that branch will go down. It is our main hope that we can have this democratic form of government. Politicians should not listen to the opinions of the people just on the day of the election, but after the election also. In England there is a great democratic tradition but the people are not considered equally. After the elections, half of the people do not have any representation in Parliament. In England you do not have a constitution. OK: When Robert Kocharian gave his inaugural speech he did mention that national minorities were extremely important for the future of Armenia. It is very interesting - the national minorities feel very much a part of Armenia, and the sort of developments that you seek for the general Armenian population apply to them. However, I have noticed that the Yezidi Community is split, and until a resolution is found to the argument over whether Yezidi are Kurd or not, it is going to be extremely difficult to address any constitutional and legal problems that the Yezidi may face in the future. PH: I think that is a possibility but that they must resolve this issue themselves. © Copyright Onnik Krikorian. All rights reserved. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited. -- Onnik Krikorian conducted this interview for ANN/Groong and can be contacted at email@example.com
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