Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Problematic Issues concerning the Freedom of Association and Group/Collective Rights in the Republic of Armenia

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Problematic Issues concerning the Freedom of Association and Group/Collective Rights in the Republic of Armenia

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION: AN OVERVIEW OF THE ISSUES

The increased activity of religious organizations in Armenia is undoubtedly connected with the conclusion ,of the Soviet era, as the end of the restrictive impact of Soviet laws1 has intensified the activities of both "old" and "new" religious denominations and debates about the role and place of religion in society.2 On one hand, religious groups and movements have found that the wealth of a primarily post-atheistic society3 enlarges their religious presence and influences the society's moral and religious values. On the other hand, the increase of non-traditional religious activity has produced some apprehension in what was previously a rather homogeneous society.4 The active proselytizing by religious groups and organizations, unheard of in Armenia until that time, drives much of the debate. Armenian society has become polarized on even basic issues, such as the definition and scope of religion and Christianity and the appropriate role of the state in regulating various communication channels vis-à-vis religious groups and communities.

One common problem in Armenia today is expanding the public's notions of what Christian culture and Christian religion are; contemporary public opinion about the definition and scope of Christian culture and religion was largely formed in the wake of the narrow Soviet viewpoint about religions.5 Additionally, while the Armenian people are facing challenges raised by the influx of new religious groups, the previously uncontested role of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church ("Armenian Church") has contributed to a related problem-the painful perception of a split in Armenian society.6 The Armenian Church, in the eyes of many Armenians, occupies a special place in the socio-political life of the country and, for the majority of the ethnic Armenians, continues to play the most influential role in religious and cultural life.7

In the first decade after Armenia declared independence in 1991, there were sporadic and incomplete efforts to govern the relationship between society, the state, and religious denominations. The war over Karabakh8 and the related blockade by Turkey played a pivotal role in slowing such legislative efforts.9 However, Armenia's willingness to join the Council of Europe (and its international system of obligations and treaties) facilitated the development of structural changes in the Armenian government.10 The founding of the Department of National Minorities and Religious Affairs was another significant step towards this structural change within Armenia.11 The work of the Department has so far hastened both legislative efforts and policy development in the area of religion and belief. It has also increased the amount of research done regarding protection of religious freedoms.12 In its first two years of operation, the Department has identified key issues which need to be addressed, either through the development of domestic law or the creation of more interpretative material concerning international standards. The work of the Department has raised questions and urged research on problematic and challenging issues in an effort to understand the approaches of international law.

In discussing these necessary structural changes, this Article discusses the right to freedom of association13 and describes the issues that Armenia needs to address in order to harmonize Armenian laws with recent amendments to the Constitution for the Republic of Armenia ("Constitution") and with existing international standards. Furthermore, this Article also describes issues resulting from the practices of various religious organizations in Armenia. These issues are typically centered on (1) the rights of religious organizations; (2) the internal freedom of individuals; (3) the rights of children and family; and (4) the freedom of autonomy regarding such matters as property, religious doctrine, religious symbols, and manifestation of religion. …

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