By Emil Danielyan
Despite a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, the Armenian authorities continue to restrict activities of non-traditional minority faiths, according to an annual U.S. State Department report released this week.
The report, which examines religion-related practices around the world over the past year, singles out a government ban on “illegal proselytizing” and “some privileges” enjoyed by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“During the period covered by this report, most registered religious groups reported no serious legal impediments to their activities. However, members of faiths other than the Armenian Apostolic Church are subject to some government restrictions.,” the report says.
“Nontraditional religious organizations are viewed with suspicion, and foreign-based denominations operate cautiously for fear of being seen as a threat by the Armenian Apostolic Church,” it says, concluding that the ancient church “has neither the trained priests nor the material resources to fill immediately the spiritual void created by the demise of Communist ideology.”
The State Department noted that for many Armenians “Christian identity is an ethnic trait” loosely connected to religious belief. “This identification was accentuated by the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, during which Armenia and Azerbaijan expelled their respective Azeri Muslim and Armenian Christian minorities,” reads its report.
The authorities’ refusal to legalize Jehovah’s Witnesses and the continuing prosecution of its young members refusing military service feature large in the 6-page document. While noting that “no action has been taken against [foreign] missionaries” operating in Armenia, it says that “illegal proselytizing” is not defined by Armenian law, but is often cited by the authorities in their crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The report also claims that public “antipathy towards Muslims remains a problem” in Armenia despite its “generally amicable” relations with Iran, its largest Muslim neighbor.