The Council of Europe is not pressuring Armenia’s authorities to ratify a European treaty rejected by the Armenian Apostolic Church and other groups championing traditional family values, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.
The treaty signed in 2011 and known as the Istanbul Convention commits Council of Europe member states to combatting violence against women. Armenia has still not ratified it despite being among its signatories.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government indicated this summer its intention to ensure the treaty’s quick ratification by the Armenian parliament. It immediately met with resistance from socially conservative groups and individuals, including the chairman of Armenia’s national bar association.
While supporting the protection of women, opponents object to the Istanbul Convention’s definition of gender as “social roles, behaviors, activities and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men.” They say this paves way for introducing transsexual or transgender as separate categories and legalizing same-sex marriage.
The top clergymen of the state-backed Armenian Apostolic Church added their voice to these objections in July. They said that the convention poses a threat to traditional marriage defined by Armenian law as a union between a man and a woman.
The outcry appears to have forced the authorities in Yerevan to at least delay the ratification until next year. In late August, they asked a Council of Europe body, the Venice Commission, for an advisory opinion on the treaty’s conformity with Armenia’s constitution. The commission is understood to strongly support its ratification.
Strasbourg-based members of the commission arrived in Yerevan this week to discuss the matter with Armenian officials and other stakeholders. They met with local lawmakers, including the chairpersons of three standing parliament committees, behind the closed doors on Friday amid fresh street protests staged by several dozen opponents of the convention.
Vladimir Vartanian, a senior member of Pashinian’s My Step bloc heading the parliament committee on legal affairs, was among those lawmakers. He insisted after the meeting that the Armenian parliament is not facing pressure from the Venice Commission to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
Vartanian stressed at the same time that the convention aims to protect women against domestic and other violence “especially in oriental societies.” “The convention does not obligate states to legalize same-sex marriages or adoptions of children and will not reflect in any way on issues relating to promotion of a non-traditional sexual orientation,” he told reporters.
Gevorg Petrosian, an outspoken opposition parliamentarian strongly opposed to the treaty as well as LGBT rights in Armenia, also took part in the meeting.
“With all due respect for our colleagues from the Venice Commission, I believe that they did not present any convincing arguments as to why we should ratify that convention,” said Petrosian. He claimed that they also failed to say which national legal mechanisms Armenia lacks in order to tackle violence against women.
The Venice Commission officials declined to comment after the discussion.
For the same reasons the convention has also sparked controversy in several other Council of Europe member states. Two of them, Bulgaria and Slovakia, rejected it last year.
In Croatia, the parliament ratified the treaty in April 2018 amid protests by local social conservatives. To placate them, the Croatian government adopted a separate statement saying the treaty will not change Croatia’s legal definition of marriage as a union between man and woman.