ARMENIA: Religious conscientious objector forcibly taken to Nagorno-Karabakh
Armen Grigoryan, a religious conscientious objector who is seriously contemplating becoming a Jehovah's Witness, has been forcibly taken by the Armenian authorities from Armenia to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. After he was beaten up, Grigoryan was forced to stand in his underwear in front of about 1,800 soldiers to tell them why he refused to do military service. "He told everyone present that his rejection was based on his religious beliefs and his study of the Bible," his father told Forum 18. This is the first instance known to Forum 18 of an Armenian religious conscientious objector being forcibly taken to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has repeatedly broken its promises to the Council of Europe on the treatment of conscientious objectors. Grigoryan has now escaped from the military and has written to the Armenian authorities from his hiding place, to say that he is prepared to do alternative civilian service.
On refusing to swear the military oath and sing the national anthem for religious reasons at the second regiment base in Martuni region of eastern Karabakh, his father Hovhanes Grigoryan told Forum 18 from Yerevan on 5 January, Armen Grigoryan was beaten by Lieutenant Shakaryan (first name unknown) and Captain Hovhanes Danielyan. With the help of his father, Grigoryan wrote to several government departments and human rights organisations but "it worsened his situation".
Lieutenant-General Vladik Khachatryan ordered that legal proceedings be instituted against Grigoryan. At the instigation of the prosecutor's assistant, he was stripped and forced to stand in his underwear in front of about 1,800 soldiers in the unit to tell them why he refused to do military service. "He told everyone present that his rejection was based on his religious beliefs and his study of the Bible," Hovhanes Grigoryan told Forum 18. "He explained that he had asked to be provided with civilian alternative service. Then he was offered military alternative service which he rejected."
In the presence of the unit commander, Grigoryan again wrote an application for civilian alternative service to Armenia's ombudsperson, Larisa Alaverdyan. Alaverdyan has in the past denied to Forum 18 that jailing Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors breaks Armenia's Council of Europe and OSCE commitments, and has blamed Jehovah's Witnesses for the problems they face from the Armenian government (see F18News 3 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=384).
After a month Armen Grigoryan was briefly hospitalised with gastritis, but after a visit from an official of the procuracy escaped from his military unit in Karabakh on 25 August and is now being hunted. His father, whose other son spent several years in prison in Armenia for refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience, told Forum 18 that Armen Grigoryan has written to the Armenian authorities from his hiding place to say he is prepared to do alternative civilian service.
A Baptist young man from Nagorno-Karabakh, Gagik Mirzoyan, who also refused because of his faith to serve in the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces, was also beaten up, and is currently been held in an unknown location by the authorities. Relatives have been denied information about his location and acess to him, and Ministry would only tell Forum 18 that he "is still alive." (See F18News 6 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=483).
Nagorno-Karabakh's deputy foreign minister Masis Mailyan told Forum 18, from Stepanakert on 5 January, that the issue of why Grigoryan was forcibly transferred against his will from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh was an issue for the Armenian authorities. As for the maltreatment in the unit in Karabakh, Mailyan said he had no information.
Armenia has promised the Council of Europe that it will introduce alternative civilian service and free religious prisoners of conscience imprisoned for conscientious objection, but has repeatedly broken these promises (see F18News 19 October 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=434). Deputy foreign minister Mailyan insisted to Forum 18 that "laws on subjects that form part of Armenia's obligations under the Council of Europe also extend to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic." Mailyan however, also claimed that the Karabakh armed forces are under local control, not under the control of Armenia (see F18News 6 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=483).
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under martial law since 1992, and imposes restrictions on civil liberties, including banning the activity of "religious sects and unregistered organisations", banning demonstrations and imposing media censorship. Officials claim that only "registered organisations" can hold meetings, and the only religious community to have registration is the Armenian Apostolic Church – effectively Karabakh's state church. Baptists have faced continued harassment from the authorities but although other communities – including Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses – have faced problems, pressures have generally eased in recent years. (END)
A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is
available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=azerba within the map titled 'Azerbaijan'.
A printer-friendly map of Armenia is available at
13 December 2004
AZERBAIJAN: Jailed for sharing faith, "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members".
One Baha'i, Tavachur Aliyev, has been jailed for ten days, allegedly for not obeying the police, but really for sharing his faith, Baha'i sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 has also been told that 18 Muslims were also jailed for two weeks, on charges of giving "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members". The imprisonments took place during a fresh crackdown on religious activity in the exclave of Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), between Armenia, Turkey and Iran. Other religious communities such as the Seventh-day Adventists have also suffered at the hands of the authorities, who deny that religious persecution takes place in the exclave, and also decline to talk to Forum 18.
10 December 2004
Adventist leaders have told Forum 18 News Service that their community in Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), an exclave between Armenia, Turkey and Iran, has been "crushed," and the police have banned them from meeting. Baha'is have told Forum 18 that "we can't do anything in Nakhichevan," and the imprisonment of one Baha'i and 18 Muslim imams has been reported. Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18 that "in Nakhichevan officials are more open about persecution than elsewhere." This opinion was backed by Professor Ali Abasov, president of the Azerbaijani branch of the International Religious Liberty Association, who said that "there is no democracy, no free media and no human rights in Nakhichevan." Asked by Forum 18 why, he responded with a grim laugh: "The authorities don't want it," insisting that the Nakhichevan authorities are doing what the authorities in the rest of Azerbaijan would like to do. The authorities have repeatedly denied any religious persecution and have declined to talk to Forum 18.
19 October 2004
This month (October), five Jehovah's Witnesses have been sentenced to jail terms for their conscientious objection, on religious grounds, to military service. A sixth prisoner of conscience has been given a lesser sentence, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The number of imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses has been brought to thirteen by these sentences, with a further two awaiting trial on the same charges. The continued sentencing and detention of religious prisoners of conscience clearly violates Armenia's previous promises to free its religious prisoners, and to introduce alternative civilian service. The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to explain to Forum 18 how these latest sentences matched Armenia's previous promises, claiming that the issue is "outside the competence of the Foreign Ministry".