By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia was effectively left without a national anthem on Wednesday as its parliament failed to meet a constitutional deadline for reaffirming the existing state symbol or introducing a new one.
The deadline was set by one of the amendments to Armenia’s constitution that were enacted by the authorities in a hotly disputed referendum late last year. It meant that the “Mer Hayrenik” (Our Fatherland) song will automatically lose its official status unless the National Assembly passes a special law on the anthem by December 6, 2006.
The clause 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. The parliament was due to debate the bill in the second and final reading this week.
But its speaker, Tigran Torosian, blocked the discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday, citing procedural violations committed by the government. The move was criticized by Rafik Petrosian, the pro-government chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs. He accused Torosian of bowing to opposition pressure.
“The situation is unpleasant,” admitted Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. “We will probably not have, de jure, a national anthem for a few more days. But those few days won’t have any practical impact on the existence of our state.”
Markarian added that the government will initiate an emergency parliament session on the issue “soon.”
Dashnaktsutyun lawmakers, meanwhile, insisted on their alternative bill that would perpetuate the official status of “Mer Hayrenik.” “Armenia is in a situation where if, God forbids, there is an official ceremony in the next few days [involving anthem rendition], it can not play any music as an national anthem,” one of them, Gegham Manukian, complained.
“The fact that we essentially have no national anthem is unacceptable,” said Grigor Harutiunian of the opposition Artarutyun alliance.