A senior Armenian official has spoken in favor of Yerevan ratifying a Council of Europe convention dealing with the rights of women and gender equality in spite of a campaign launched by some detractors claiming risks to family values.
Thirty-four of the 47 Council of Europe member-states have already ratified the so-called Istanbul Convention. Armenia is among 11 members that have signed the document but not yet ratified it in parliament.
The Convention has not even been put on the parliament agenda in Armenia yet, but its detractors have already launched an online-based campaign against it, claiming that the document undermines family values by promoting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights and legally recognizing same-sex marriages and the so-called ‘third sex’ status.
Proponents of the Convention in Armenia have called such views a misconception, seeking to debunk these claims.
Armenia’s Ministry of Justice has presented tabulated arguments in favor of ratifying the Convention, describing the row kicked up over its possible ratification as “artificial”.
“The goal is simply to hit the government from different sides and create a negative background to all this,” Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said.
The Convention obliges participating nations to prevent violence without any discrimination, including gender-based discrimination. According to the Armenian Justice Ministry, “ratification of the Convention is not imposed from the outside, but is what we need ourselves.”
“This is the commitment of the Republic of Armenia to its citizens to ensure the protection of human rights,” Justice Minister Badasian said.
Chairman of the Chamber of Advocates Ara Zohrabyan, one of the most vocal critics of the Convention, has been rallying support for his campaign to “stop the Istanbul Convention” through a website.
But Zohrabian says his struggle is not political and is not aimed against the current government as he also spoke about the issue before. “I actively opposed this bill and organized professional discussions also before... I spoke about it at that time. In other words, it means I do not pursue any political goals against the current government. I simply see a threat to family values and in this sense I’ve raised my concerns,” he said.
Zohrabian stressed that he supports the prevention of violence and that the Convention has mechanisms in this regard that should be applied in Armenia’s legislation, but in his view, the Convention has some unacceptable wording. For example, he says, along with the word ‘family’ the Convention uses the term ‘domestic unit’. According to Zohrabian, this contains a risk that LGBT community members will also be able to create families.
“Let them pass a separate law protecting the rights of LGBT people, if they find it necessary, but not write about domestic violence and include them in the family, because in that case tomorrow the conception of family will already imply these people as well,” Zohrabian said.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), Dr. Marceline Naudi, President of GREVIO, the Istanbul Convention monitoring body, said that the countries that have ratified the Convention have made significant progress in preventing violence against women.
As for the debate in Armenia, Naudi said: “The Istanbul Convention does not define family. It does not promote a particular type of family. The Istanbul Convention does not say a family consists of X, Y, Z. It does not define family at all. What the Istanbul Convention tries to do is to protect women wherever they are – whether they are at home, whether they are on the street, whether they are at work, because violence against women sadly occurs everywhere and anywhere… Now we also say that the Convention should apply generally to all women regardless of who they are – whether they are Roma women, Muslim women, regardless of their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, if they are lesbian women, if they are heterosexual women, regardless of who they are, none of them should be excluded from receiving help and support and protection from violence against them.”
The Council of Europe official thinks that like other nations Armenia would only benefit from ratifying the Istanbul Convention. “I would say that becoming a party to the Convention and working towards preventing, combating and eliminating violence against women and domestic violence would benefit all members of Armenian society – women, girls, men, boys. I think that everyone would stand to benefit if it is ratified,” she said.
The Armenian Apostolic Church also has reservations about the Convention. In a statement bishops and diocesan leaders have called on the Armenian authorities not to ratify the Convention. Spiritual leaders say they see dangers in the subtext of articles that they claim imply freedom for people to choose their gender and contain wording that goes against the Armenian perception of what family is.
According to the church doctrine, a family is a union between a man and a woman. The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, reminds the clergy that this is the same as defined in Armenia’s Constitution.
“According to Article 35 of Armenia’s Constitution, only a woman and a man who attain the marriageable age shall have the right to marry and form a family,” said Deputy Minister of Justice Rafik Grigorian.
In a Facebook video Justice Minister Badasian said that a “constructive dialogue” is ongoing with the Church regarding the Convention.