By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The National Assembly passed on Monday a bill that reinstates Armenia’s post-Soviet national anthem that controversially lost its official status earlier this month amid wrangling between members of the governing coalition.
The song “Mer Hayrenik” (Our Fatherland) automatically ceased to be the national anthem on December 6 as the Armenian parliament failed to meet a constitutional deadline for reaffirming it or introducing a new state symbol. The deadline was set by one of the amendments to Armenia’s constitution that were enacted by the authorities in a disputed referendum late last year.
The amendment was widely seen as a prelude to the abolition of “Mer Hayrenik” which was the official anthem of an independent Armenian republic in 1918-1920 before being reinstated by Armenia’s first post-Communist government in 1990. President Robert Kocharian and many of his political allies, backed by some artists and composers, consider its tune and lyrics too unsophisticated.
But their plans have met with strong resistance from some opposition groups and, more importantly, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a member of the governing coalition which had founded the First Republic. They forced the government last month to scrap the results of a contest for a new Armenian anthem.
Still, the government kept open the possibility of anthem change on November 29, pushing through the Kocharian-controlled parliament a bill that gives “Mer Hayrenik” only a “provisional” status. It took the legislature almost a month to pass the bill in the third and final reading due to objections from Dashnaktsutyun and opposition factions.
The bill will come into force only ten days after being singed into law by President Robert Kocharian and published in the Official Gazette, meaning that Armenia still has no official anthem. “I hope that the president of the republic will quickly sign the bill into law,” said parliament speaker Tigran Torosian.
Torosian, who voted for the bill despite favoring a permanent status for “Mer Hayrenik,” also disagreed with those who believe that Armenian television channels will not be able to begin the New Year with a traditional rendition of the anthem. “Nothing prevents us from playing ‘Mer Hayrenik’ on December 31,” he told reporters. “This is a situation where punctuality is not that important.”
Vahan Hovannisian, Torosian’s deputy affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, boycotted Monday’s parliament vote, insisting that the bill’s controversial clause is “nonsensical” and disrespectful towards Armenian statehood. “That nonsense stems from the government’s weakness,” he said. “In essence, the government bowed to pressure from pseudo-intellectuals opposed to ‘Mer Hayrenik.’”
“I don’t think that the fight is over because ‘Mer Hayrenik’ will remain a national anthem in the foreseeable future,” added Hovannisian.