By Ruzanna Stepanian
Nearly one thousand foreign nationals have applied for dual Armenian citizenship since it was introduced by the authorities in Yerevan late last year, a senior police official said on Wednesday.
Armenia’s constitution banned dual citizenship until it was amended in a disputed November 2005 referendum. Then President Robert Kocharian and some of his political allies, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), were instrumental in the lifting of the ban. They cited the need to better utilize the economic and political potential of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora.
It took the Armenian authorities two years to enact corresponding changes in the country’s law on citizenship and approve a complex procedure for applying for and obtaining dual citizenship. The president of the republic has the exclusive authority to grant it. Dual citizenship applications have to be endorsed by the police and a special presidential commission headed by Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian before being considered by the head of state.
According to Alvina Zakarian, head of the Police Department on Passports and Visas, 188 foreigners, most of them ethnic Armenians, have been granted Armenian passports since the measure took effect last December. Zakarian said almost 800 other applications are currently being considered by relevant state bodies. She added that most of the applicants are citizens of Russia, Georgia, Iran, and other countries with sizable ethnic Armenian communities.
Zakarian confirmed that all prospective dual citizens must be permanent residents of Armenia and that those who have no ethnic Armenian roots must have lived there for at least three years. “For example, an Australian living in Australia is not eligible for our dual citizenship,” she told reporters.
The residency requirement set by the law was clearly intended to allay fears that dual citizenship would allow the Diaspora Armenians, who greatly outnumber Armenia’s population, to influence election results and other political processes in the country. During February 2007 debates on the government-drafted amendments to the law, senior lawmakers from the ruling Republican Party demanded that dual nationals be granted voting rights only if they live in Armenia during at least one of the five years preceding a particular election. They dropped the demand after it was rejected as unconstitutional by the government.