By Nane Achemian
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was embroiled on Wednesday in a fresh controversy over the introduction of Western-style social security cards which some religiously motivated Armenians believe run counter to their Christian faith.
Ministry officials made it clear that they will continue to resist attempts by a coalition of several non-governmental organizations and an extreme nationalist party opposed to the reform to make changes in a relevant law.
The coalition called Against Numbering People drafted amendments jointly with the Armenian government’s Department on Religion and National Minorities and claims to have submitted them to the ministry earlier this year. According to the head of the department, Hranush Kharatian, they have still not received a reply.
The law on social security cards was passed by parliament last year as part of the government’s stated efforts to crack down on tax evasion and overhaul Armenia’s Soviet-era pension system. The cards carry lifetime numbers and contain information about a person’s employment history and social security contributions.
They began to be phased in this July despite angry protests by critics that claim that the very idea of attaching a particular number to a human being is “anti-Christian.” The Armenian Apostolic Church also initially voiced objections but dropped them after the government made largely symbolic changes to the reform.
Kharatian’s agency and the religious groups refuse to disclose their proposed amendments, saying only that they have been endorsed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. However, the spokeswoman for the Labor Ministry, Hasmik Khachatrian, claimed that it did not receive any “written substantiated proposals.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian stressed that he sees no need to amend the existing law. He said 1.3 million people have already been given social cards and 500,000 others will get them soon.