Arman Tatoyan

Armenian Ombudsman Tatoyan Will Continue Human Rights Work After Leaving Office

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WATERTOWN — Dr. Arman Tatoyan, Ombudsman or Human Rights Defender of Armenia, spoke at the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) press forum via Zoom on February 23, the last day of his six-year term in office, on Azerbaijan’s Armenophobic policies and ongoing violations of human rights. Sevag Hagopian, editor of the ADL newspaper Zartonk of Beirut, introduced the speaker to the audience.

Tatoyan was elected the Ombudsman of Armenia by the Armenian parliament in February 2016, two years before the “Velvet Revolution” and the coming to power of Nikol Pashinyan. The 40-year-old has three degrees from the law faculty of Yerevan State University (Bachelor of Law, Master of Jurisprudence, and Doctor of Law), concluding his studies there in 2007. He also obtained a master’s degree in law in 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Prior to serving as Ombudsman he was adviser to the chair of the Criminal Chamber Cassation Court of Armenia (2007), the legal officer for the South Caucasus Anti-Drug Regional Program, V Phase, at the United Nations Development Program (2010), adviser at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia (2012-13), and a member for Armenia on the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe at various times since 2011. He has served as ad hoc judge in the European Court of Human Rights and has taught as a lecturer in several Armenian universities.

A rapid and passionate speaker, Tatoyan related that he and his office conducted fundamental investigations during and after the war concerning the Armenophobic policies of the Azerbaijani government, and published a report based on evidence. He said that it indicates that nothing has decreased since the war, with the same hostile approach based on national and religious identity.

Tatoyan stated the religious element of this enmity has increased. For example, he said that Armenian war captives were tortured partly on a religious basis. When they saw a cross tattooed on the hand of a captive, they burnt it off. Whoever was wearing a cross was killed. Whoever was baptized was treated more severely. In one case, Azerbaijanis burned captives’ feet, forcing them to accept Islam.

Tatoyan observed that the president of Azerbaijan last September called upon the Muslim world basically for revenge, accusing Armenians of Islamophobia and Azerbaijan-phobia. Yet, he said, this accusation is false. In his report, he traced good relations of Armenians with Muslims back to the 7th century and related the good relations today of Armenians in many predominantly Muslim countries.

Though on the one hand, Armenia has preserved the Iranian Blue Mosque, which operates in Yerevan, and Armenians renovated several mosques in Shushi, Tatoyan said, the Baku Armenian Church has been completely desecrated and many Armenian churches are being destroyed by Azerbaijan after the 2020 war. Furthermore, when two Azerbaijani representatives recently visited Yerevan, they went to the Blue Mosque, and wrote something to the effect that we have come to the Blue Mosque on our historic Azerbaijani land and hope that the true owners will come in the future.

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Armenophobia is part of Azerbaijani policies, Tatoyan continued, and ever-present in the realms of education, culture and even sport like a red thread. Tatoyan said that this is one of the means the government uses to keep power. It is a classic way of diverting domestic attention to an external enemy. Yet, he said that this policy is not only dangerous for Armenians but also for Azerbaijanis. The two people live together in various countries like France, the United States and Russia, and the inculcation of hostility led to mass attacks during the 2020 Artsakh war by Azerbaijanis and Turks on Armenians abroad. Tatoyan said that whenever he met ambassadors of these countries, he pointed out that Azerbaijan will continue to play with the stability of those countries by organizing such attacks.

In Artsakh and the Azerbaijani border with Armenia, Tatoyan said Azerbaijan is more aggressive, directly killing people. Azerbaijani soldiers make life very difficult for Armenian villagers near their borders with periodic shooting. For example, he said that in Gegharkunik Province, some villages do not have their own sources of water and have to go on foot with pails to nearby villages to bring water back, or pay others with vehicles to bring them water. The constant shooting makes this difficult. Azerbaijani soldiers enter people’s homes and their fields and lands. They view with video cameras the comings and goings of the Armenian villagers.

Tatoyan proclaimed that the policy conducted by the Armenian state in this respect is wrong. It does not take into account this evidence and give it priority. Instead, as he proclaims in conferences, the Armenians must have guarantees for their rights under these hostile conditions, especially if the borders are opened.

Tatoyan gleefully related that he informed the Azerbaijani government that very day that he had bad news for it: he is going to continue his work even after leaving office. He said that he knows the Azerbaijanis follow him closely and he thought they got very upset.

He emphasized that the unity of Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenian diaspora was very important. The diaspora both provides platforms throughout the world for Armenia to have a voice and also participates in the development of the country. Tatoyan spoke in the question period in appreciation of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party press throughout the world and said he had seen how useful it has been.

He pointed out that time works against the Armenians, with Azerbaijan daily using international companies to spread the idea that Artsakh is a domestic matter for Azerbaijan, while working to annihilate Armenian identity in the areas they occupy.

When asked by an audience member what the true number of Armenian war captives was, he replied that officially the Azerbaijani government has said it is 36 or 38, but he thinks the number must be much higher. However, no one really knows, he said, because it has been lying. The Azerbaijan government does not publish how many captives it has so it can continue to keep them in order to conduct trades or deals for political and military considerations, such as the recent Hungarian mediation returning several captives to the Armenians.

Azg newspaper editor Hakob Avedikian proposed the creation of a platform allowing the quick transmission of information among Armenia, Artsakh and the diaspora in a coordinated and professional manner. Tatoyan found this interesting and said he himself had in mind the creation of such a platform, perhaps something in the manner of the Hayastan All Armenian Fund. He promised to think more in this direction, while continuing the work of collecting evidence relating to human rights and visiting various Armenian provinces for this purpose.

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