By Shakeh Avoyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Wednesday reaffirmed their strong opposition to the abolition of a constitutional ban on dual citizenship in Armenia which was imposed during his rule.
The lifting of that ban is envisaged by one of the amendments to the Armenian constitution drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his allies. They say it would strengthen links between Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
But members of Ter-Petrosian’s inner circle and intellectuals sympathetic to the ex-president denied this as they spoke at a roundtable discussion of the issue. They said Diaspora Armenians are already able to live and work in the country of their ancestors.
They also repeated their argument that the right to dual citizenship could enable the ethnic Armenian foreigners, who greatly outnumber Armenia’s population, to form governments and decide on other key issues facing the country.
“All of this has nothing to do with Armenia’s prosperity,” said Vahagn Khachatrian, a former Yerevan mayor. He claimed that the current authorities are only concerned with “reproducing themselves.”
Aram Abrahamian, a former Ter-Petrosian spokesman who now edits the Yerevan daily “Aravot,” cited “moral” considerations as well. “I find it wrong to do the Diaspora favors at the expense of the people of Armenia,” he said. “Those who spent the 1990s in prosperous and comfortable countries have no moral right to have the same status as the people of Armenia who have endured state building, the blockade, the war and all the hardship related to it.”
“The lifting of the ban on dual citizenship is a revolutionary change that could substantially change our life by enabling Russia to form Armenia’s governments through its ethnic Armenian citizens,” said Vartan Harutiunian, a prominent human rights campaigner and Soviet-era political prisoner.
However, leaders of the governing coalition insist that dual citizenship would not automatically give Diaspora Armenians the right to vote and get elected to a public office in Armenia. They say ethnic Armenian citizens of other nations will have that right only if they live in Armenia, serve in its army and pay taxes.
Two of those leaders repeated these assurances on Wednesday as they promoted Kocharian’s constitutional changes in Yeghvard, a town 20 kilometers north of Yerevan. “Only those [citizens] who fulfill their obligations just like we do, would be able to elect and get elected,” said Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a nationalist party which is particularly influential in the Diaspora.
Gagik Melikian, a senior member of the governing Republican Party, went farther, saying: “They would not enjoy voting rights and there is no question about that.”
But Ter-Petrosian supporters remain unconvinced. Jirair Libaridian, a U.S. citizen who was a top aide to the ex-president in 1992-97, said he would accept Armenian citizenship only after surrendering his U.S. passport. “I can’t understand which problems facing Diaspora Armenians would be solved with dual citizenship,” he said.