A climate of tolerance and dialogue between the majority population and national minority groups generally prevails in Armenia, said the new Opinion published by the Council of Europe today. However, economic difficulties continue to adversely affect the population; more effort is required to ensure full access to education for all, and criminalise forced early marriages.
The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) acknowledged the commitment of Armenian population and authorities to promoting the principles of equality and non-discrimination, including rights of national minorities. Notably, the amended constitution introduces a specific provision on the protection of the right to a national and ethnic identity; the new Electoral Code provides for parliamentary representation for the four largest national minorities in the country.
Other positive observations include the continued support of cultural projects and media for national minorities as well as improved possibilities for self-identification during the census of 2011 where the questions on ethnic affiliation and languages spoken were open-ended and optional. The Council of Europe experts also find it commendable that, in spite of economic difficulties, Armenia admitted into the country more than 20,000 people, mainly of Armenian and Assyrian descent, fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Newspapers and magazines in languages of national minorities continue to be published and the public radio broadcasts in minority languages. Support is provided to the artistic expressions of national minorities. However, the majority of cultural initiatives, although praiseworthy in themselves, tend to present a folkloristic picture of national minorities.
However, even though the authorities promote inter-ethnic tolerance and understanding in society, Armenia is widely perceived as a mono-ethnic homogenous and mono-religious state. This, coupled with lack of media attention, limits the visibility of minorities and leads to their side-lining.
The unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the closed borders with neighbouring states have led to socio-economic hardships, which are particularly acute in poorer regions in secluded mountainous areas, inhabited largely by the Yezidi national minority. This community has lately seen the most significant drop in numbers due to emigration. School drop-out rates for Yezidi children, in particular girls, continue to be high. The persisting tradition of arranged early marriages further undermines their chances of completing the compulsory 12-year education cycle.
Redoubling efforts to eliminate difficulties experiences by Yezidi children in access to education and reviewing legislation with a view to criminalising forced marriages conducted under pressure or abuse, are among recommendations for immediate action given by the Council of Europe experts to the Armenian authorities.
Other recommendations include ensuring participation of national minorities and civil society in preparing the new Law on National Minorities, which is called for under the revised Constitution, and other legislation, encouraging the use of minority languages in contacts with local administration, introducing a possibility of declaring multiple ethnic affiliations for future censuses, as well as reviewing criminal legislation to make racial hatred and other hate motives an aggravating circumstance for all crimes.