By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian promised on Wednesday more government efforts to curb activities of non-traditional religious organizations in Armenia, playing down the landmark legalization of the most controversial of them.
The group, Jehovah’s Witnesses, was registered by the Justice Ministry this week after years of pressure exerted on Yerevan by the Council of Europe and other international human rights watchdogs. The sect is viewed with suspicion by many Armenians for its opposition to military service and perceived threat to the dominant Armenian Apostolic Church.
The church was quick to condemn its registration in a rare public attack on the government. Some politicians similarly conveyed their concerns to Markarian during his cabinet’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament.
“I am surprised that our society is focusing on one sect,” Markarian said. “The more than 30 other sects which were registered earlier are no less dangerous.”
The Armenian government, he added, now intends to “create such conditions that if they violate the law we can ban their activities by legal means.” He said the government’s Department on National Minorities and Religion will soon draw up amendments to Armenia’s law on religious groups that will put place additional restrictions on their activities.
The law already upholds the privileged status of the Apostolic Church to which the vast majority of Armenians belong. The ancient church enjoys the exclusive right to publicly and freely disseminate its beliefs.