AN INTERVIEW WITH PARUIR HAIRIKIAN

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 onnik@oneworld.am
Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator.
Copyright 1998 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.

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