Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Constitution Day

5 July is Constitution Day and this year marks its 10th Anniversary in Armenia. It's a national holiday and many people were given the opportunity to work on Saturday so that they could take yesterday off as well as today. However, most of the shops around my way are still open which is pretty much normal even for New Year and Christmas (6 January). Regardless, PanArmenian.net carries congratulations to the nation from the Armenian President.
“Within the past decade our Constitution has demonstrated its viability and has pointed out the way to overcome the hardest situations. The Organic Law of our country is the major guarantor of civil accord, rule of law and stability. At this stage the process of constitutional reforms has ripened and reached its final phase. Much work has been done to that end by state bodies, political forces and specialists. We have also made international commitments thereupon. I am sure that the natural course of reforms of the Constitution is of high importance for the progress of our country.”
The Catholicos of all Armenians has also issued his address.
“On the day of the adoption of the Constitution our souls admitted the rule of the values and principles, which must bring our country to prosperity and strong state organization. We are convinced that the values of right and humanity in our society should strengthen and yield fruit as the expression of our Christian identity and traditions, as the evidence of hopes for happy future. In the course of centuries our people strived to secure and lawful life and free creation," the statement says.
Strange. I never realized constitutions had anything to do with Christianity but regardless, this year is probably more significant than its ever been with constitutional ammendments scheduled for November. The ammendments are part of the deal that clinched Armenia's accession to the Council of Europe in 2001. They were also apparently part of President Kocharian's campaign promises.

Nonetheless, there is little or no discussion in Armenian society and the process itself has been controversial to say the least. The opposition had threatened to turn the referendum on the ammendments into a vote of no confidence in the President but may back off from such an idea now that three key issues are to be incorporated into the final draft. However, the former ruling party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), is still very much against the changes.

Of course, the point is that it should be up to the people to decide whether the draft ammendments are passed or not rather than internal and international political forces. However, if that's the case, then there also needs to be discussion within Armenian society of which there is clearly very little. On a brighter note, however, it is promising to see that today in Vanadzor, the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly are staging an event to raise public awareness.
Studying the course of constitutional changes in the Republic of Armenia, as well as considering the constitutional reforms very important as a process directed to the formation of a democratic and legal state “Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor office” NGO appeals to all the citizens, NGOs, political parties, means of mass media, which consider their own rights and freedoms important to take part in the public action which will take place on July 5, at 13:00 in “Artsakh” park. It aims at awareness raising among Vanadzor residents on the constitutional reforms held in Armenia. During the event, the rock group “Vordan Karmir” will be present there with a concert program.
They've even held a telephone poll of 250 residents of Armenia's third largest city. The results are not encouraging. Even though today is a national holiday, over 70 per cent do not know why and when asked about the current constitution, nearly 60 per cent are unaware of their constitutional rights. More information is available on the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly of Vanadzor web site. In related news, A1 Plus reports that the former residents of what will become Northern Avenue protested outside the presidential palace before marching on the Constitutional Court.
“The Constitution does not exist. Today, by decree of the government a white genocide is perpetrated," one of the protesters said. Raffi K. Hovannisian, chairman of Heritage party and Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan were the only officials to approach the people. They told they share the anxiety of the demonstrators and agree with their claims.
According to another report by A1 Plus, Hovannisian was one of a handful of people attending a celebration at the Constitutional Court (CC). The Chairman of the CC presented his new book, “Constitutional Culture, Lessons of History and Modern Challenges” to an audience outnumbered by those protesting outside.

Anyway, happy Constitution Day, not that anyone -- including state officials -- really knows what it means. Incidentally, Raffi Hovannisian -- the republic's first Foreign Minister and a US-born American citizen who was denied Armenian citizenship until recently because both the current and former president fear his potential political clout -- has launched his party's web site at http://www.heritage.am.
Heritage, a National Liberal Party, is national by its roots, liberal in its economic principle, and an advocate of the democratic system of governance and due process for its citizens. The party's objective is the development of Armenia as a democratic, lawful, and rights-based country that anchors its domestic and foreign policies in the nation's sovereign interest.
The English version of the Heritage web site is available here.

UPDATE: 8.41 pm

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty's Armenia Service also carries news of the tenth anniversary of the Armenian Constitution here. Unfortunately, however, the whole issue is now getting even more heavily politicized at a time when the public as well as the government show no basic understanding of what the constitution and the rule of law means. Even so, the situation is one of Armenia's own making and it is ultimately up to society to decide so let's hope someone engages them in the matter ASAP.

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