Human Rights in Armenia Taking a Tumble

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By Anahit Tokatlyan
Special to t he Mirror-Spectator

WATERTOWN, Mass. — On October 15, Simon Payaslian, professor of Modern Armenian History and Literature at Boston University, gave a presentation on Human Rights in Armenia at the Armenian Library and Museum (ALMA).

The evening began with a brief synopsis of Human Right s in Armenia by Mariam Stepanyan, ALMA’s executive director, and an introduction of Payaslian, who is the Elisabeth Kenosian Chair of the Modern Armenian History Department at Boston University.

Payaslian’s current project is analyzing how Armenia has a “disrupted” political history,
which has led to its difficulties in the field of human rights today.  Human rights must be defined through a long-term prism, he said; and Payaslian began by looking back at successful Armenian legal systems. Payaslian describes t he Cilician Dynasty of Armenia that had a successful government.

Cilician Armenia was secular and was able to develop its own government institutions, he said. “They were discussing laws and issues because they had independent government
institutions.”

Once Armenia fell into a pattern of oppression through the years, it began to
lose its political identity, which would allow for a strong government foundation.

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Members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, such as Gagik Harutunian and Rafael Babayan believe that because of Armenia’s loss of statehood for 700 years, the country’s “civil aspects were distorted,” he noted.

Payaslian argued that their system is not distorted, but rather “disrupted.” Armenia was not able to develop its own legal system because of historic oppression by the Persians, Ottomans and the Soviets. With Armenia going through these experiences “as a nation was not able to shape their own values into institutions.”

This past has created the poor standards of human rights in Armenia today. According to
Payaslian, a lot of aspects went backwards once Armenia got its independence.

Accomplishments under Soviet rule for women in the social, political and economic realm were reversed, a patriarchic view of society reoccurred, and all the human rights documents signed off by Moscow became transferred onto Armenia’s independent government, but were not actually adopted nor practiced. This is part of the reason why Payaslian sees Armenia’s political history to be “disrupted” by rule of other nations and the main reason why it leads to poor human rights.

Payaslian talked about the different challenges that Armenia faces now and the phases it went through as an independent nation. He explained that Armenia needs to work on building a proper legal system that meets international human rights standards, that it lacks political legitimacy and does not have any real state building, and lastly that there needs to be a socio-economic development that will lead to democratization, “more socio-economic development puts pressure on democratization.”

These challenges came about in five different phases since its independence. Phase one was from 1991 to 1993 during the administration of Levon Ter-Petrosian. During this stage, Armenians and the country had an optimistic view of the future.

Phase two was from 1994 to 1998 when Armenia adopted a new constitution, but not one
that represented the country’s own values.

Phase three occurred from 1998 to 2003, during the administration of Robert Kocharian, which Armenians thought would bring relief from the corruption that had started during Ter-Petrosian’s reign, but to their disappoint, it made no difference to the country’s situation; phase four was during the years of 2003 to 2008, which led Armenia to have no hope for a bright future, and phase five with the election of President Serge Sargisian — yet another election over which there was much dispute — brought Armenians to apathy towards politics and their government in general.

Payaslian’s conclusion towards what has happened to Armenia since its independence was pessimistic, but he said he has hopes for a bright future in the long run. Despite all the negative implications during Payaslian’s presentation, he noted he believes that Armenia has the ability to progress in its development.