Dual Citizenship Debates in Armenia: In Pursuit of National Identity since Independence

By Harutyunyan, Arus | Demokratizatsiya, April 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Dual Citizenship Debates in Armenia: In Pursuit of National Identity since Independence


Harutyunyan, Arus, Demokratizatsiya


Constitutional amendments are a pivotal political issue for Armenia.1 Among several changes that the amended constitution does not contain is a clause banning dual citizenship, specified in Article 14 of the constitution.2 The issue of dual citizenship in Armenia has been at the heart of political debate since independence. As the National Assembly's (NA) Deputy Speaker, Ara Sahakyan, announced in 1994, debates around dual citizenship and citizens' rights and obligations divided the NA into two extreme poles.3

This article discusses two interrelated themes. First, it will present official and opposition attitudes on dual citizenship in Armenia from 1994 to 2005. In this section it will be argued that the dual citizenship debate in Armenia is essentially a result of differing perceptions of national identity. While the pre-1998 official discourse on national identity clearly leaned toward a civic type, the post-1998 official discourse is marked by a tendency toward an ethnic definition of national identity. A great deal of the literature on citizenship indicates that the historical link between citizenship and nationality is disappearing as a result of processes such as globalization and the proliferation of human rights. The importance and impact of those processes is undeniable. Yet the Armenian case indicates that the current debates on citizenship are also debates about nationhood. As William Rogers Brubaker argues, debates on citizenship "are debates about what it means, and ought to mean, to be a member of a nation-state in today's increasingly international world."4 Moreover, while adopting international norms and the standardized language of universal rights, states are in a position to mold and adjust the discourse to domestic priorities and security concerns.

Second, based on the theory of liberal nationalism, an argument will be made against dual citizenship in Armenia. It will be argued that concessions and tolerance are possible only when there is trust within "ethical communities," that is, states whose citizens have special moral obligations to each other, but not to outsiders.5 The sense of shared national identity (based on shared political experiences), and belonging to a bounded political community, helps sustain the trust and solidarity needed for citizens "to accept the results of democratic decisions and the obligations of liberal justice."6

Some Theoretical Considerations on Civic and Ethnic Typology of National Identity

Since the mid-twentieth-century, scholars have categorized nationalism based on a Western/civic/liberal and Eastern/ethnic/organic definition. According to this definition, civic national identity, which emerged in the late sixteenth-century in Western Europe, and later in North America, is based on concepts of individual liberty, choice, and rational cosmopolitanism. Ethnic identity, which emerged in Central and Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth-century, is based on cultural heritage, ethnic descent, rejection of a rational conception of society, and the absence of individual choice.7

Scholars from various disciplines have challenged these assertions by pointing out the cultural foundation of politics-both in ethnic and civic nationalism. In addition to democratic principles, there is always a cultural component to civic nationalism, and thus, there is no such thing as genuine civic nationalism. The most famous examples of civic nationalism, such as the United States, Canada, and Britain, have engaged in both a cultural interpretation of their nation, and the realization of state-building. Switzerland, Belgium, Britain, and the U.S. have cultivated encompassing national identities, despite divisions along linguistic, religious, ethnic, regional, and cantonal lines. Distinct national identities have been cultivated through "inventions" of national myths and symbols, and the establishment of democratic, political institutions. Hence, civic national identity, just like ethnic identity, requires "markers of identity," and shared myths. …

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