By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s governing coalition remained divided on Thursday over key provisions of draft legislation allowing foreign nationals of Armenian descent to become Armenian citizens.
A package of bills endorsed by the government and championed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) regulates practical modalities of dual citizenship, which was effectively introduced in Armenia in November 2005 as part of a controversial constitutional reform.
The National Assembly passed them in the first reading earlier this week amid serious misgivings voiced by lawmakers representing virtually all other parliamentary parties, including Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). They are particularly unhappy with a provision that gives dual citizens living outside Armenia voting rights. Some of them have also accused Dashnaktsutyun, which has many supporters in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, of seeking additional votes ahead of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
But leaders of the nationalist party have denied any ulterior motives behind their strong support for dual citizenship. They say it will boost Armenia’s small population and strengthen its security. “By failing to introduce dual citizenship we lost a major source of our security,” one of them, Armen Rustamian told reporters.
Still, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and other HHK lawmakers insisted Thursday on their draft amendments to the legislative package that would enable dual citizens from the Diaspora to vote in Armenian elections if they have resided and paid taxes in Armenia during at least one of the pervious five years. “People whose fate hinges on developments in other countries must not decide the fate of people living in Armenia,” Torosian said at the end of heated parliament debates on the issue.
Opposition deputies made similar arguments. “People living abroad must not have the right to predetermine the fate of the people living in Armenia,” said Grigor Harutiunian of the Artarutyun alliance.
For its part, the pro-government United Labor Party (MAK) said its five parliamentarians continue to oppose the bills because they stipulate that members of Armenia’s government can be dual citizens. The latter would only be barred from running for president and parliament. “That would mean a partial loss of Armenia’s sovereignty,” said MAK leader Gurgen Arsenian.
Justice Harutiunian David Harutiunian, who presented the bill on behalf of the government, rejected the amendments proposed by both the HHK and the MAK. Harutiunian pointed to a constitutional clause which gives equal rights to all Armenian citizens. “Besides, we can’t check who has or has not lived in our country for more than 183 days,” he said.
While voicing strong objections, HHK leaders did not say whether they their faction, the largest in the National Assembly, will vote for the draft laws in the second reading. The vote is scheduled for Monday. Markarian and other HHK ministers have not yet publicly commented on the debate.