Thursday, February 7, 2008

Discrimination in Armenia

February 7, 2008
Dear Senator Bayh,

The country of Armenia is experiencing what many have thought as a thing that is well in the past; discrimination of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia have been facing discrimination and even imprisonment. Most of the people are being imprisoned because their beliefs don’t allow them to enter military services, while others are being attacked by members of more dominant religions. As Laurence Broers, Amnesty International's researcher on Armenia put it, “Young male Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be imprisoned. Since there is no alternative civilian service in Armenia, Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.” The country of Armenia has about 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and they have been victims to an increasing number of attacks. The number of attacks began to rise due to the prominence of the religion in 2004 following the registration of Jehovah’s Wtinesses as a religious organization. Amnesty International is concerned about what is going on because this is a direct violation of human rights. Laurence Broers also had this to say "The Armenian authorities are ignoring the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses are specifically targeted for attacks, including allegedly by representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church.” An alternative for military service is possible, but with the military in control of any civilian service, it will still be incompatible with the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witness. As of September 2007, there were 82 Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned.
After further analysis of the whole situation, I came upon a response from the Adviser to the RA Prime Minister on National Minorities and Religious Issues of Armenia, Hranoush Kharatian. Ms. Kharatian states that the “One Nation” party constantly post flyers that say “Beware of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Ms. Kharatian says, “We cannot name it a religious discrimination as they neither instigate aggression nor take tough measures against Jehovah's Witnesses. Their step cannot be viewed as a call for intolerance.” This statement is completely naive and Mrs. Kharatian should be seriously reconsidered for her position if such statements are made without thorough knowledge of what’s going on. When the word, “Beware”, is used to refer to a human or animal, people will take defense as well as offense to make sure they remain safe. Mrs. Kharatian states that the "Law on Alternative Military Service" functions well in Armenia. Jehovah's Witnesses simply avoid service. The government of Armenia is supposed to be a democratic republic, but this republic excludes and/or ignores the beliefs of minority religions.
Senator Bayh, I believe that Indiana should be the first of many states to take a stand and not only assist the minority religions of Armenia but inform the entire country and their government of different outlets of military service and civilian service that can coincide with the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I believe we should expose this discrimination to the entire world and unveil what the Armenian government and military are doing. We need to send numerous camera crews from not only the United States but from other democratic countries as well. This is obviously not a sign of democracy when someone can be attacked and imprisoned because of their beliefs.
This is not just an American government job, either; any U.S. citizen or better yet any person in the world can stand up for the minority religious groups of Armenia by just verbalizing their feelings about the situation towards their respective senators or whomever may have some power in a high government position. Senator Bayh, we need to act quickly before anymore citizens of Armenia are wrongfully imprisoned or discriminated against.
Dominique Thomas

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