First report dated 26 September 1995
Corrigendum dated 11 February 1997
Armenia was the first republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union in September 1991. Since then, the country has been in transition to a free market economy. The process has been marked by a dire economic situation exacerbated by internal political struggle and military conflicts in the region.
The 1995 and 1996 elections
In the last two years, Armenia has held its first post-independence parliamentary, constitutional and presidential elections -- all of which were criticised by international observers.
As a result of the parliamentary election in 1995, the Armenian National Movement (ANM), gained an overwhelming majority. 1 The UN and other observers declared elections "free but not fair."2 Ten opposition parties, including an influential radical nationalist party Dashnaktsutioun, were barred from participating. Criticism also came from the fact that the government-controlled media announced the results even before the votes had been counted.3 Although observers admitted that the contested elections were a step in the right direction, they criticised "the lack of peaceful dissent necessary for liberal democracy to sink roots and flourish."4 Some argue that in Armenia there is "literally no civil society to liberate," because the country lacks centres of power independent of the government.5 In the constitutional referendum, also in 1995, thirty eight percent of eligible voters supported the new Constitution,6 which gave nearly dictatorial powers to the President: the right to dissolve parliament, call early elections and appoint a prime minister.7
Levon Ter-Petrossian was reelected president by a narrow margin in September 1996. Again, observers criticised irregularities, procedural violations and breaches of the election law, combined with the continued ban imposed on the opposition Dashnak party.8 The opposition rejected the official results and asked the Constitutional court to invalidate the results and order a new election. Mass protests followed. 9 The main opposition candidate claimed to have gained sixty percent of the votes.10 In April 1997, about 20,000 opponents of Ter-Petrossian protested again in Yerevan and called for a new election.11
President Ter-Petrossian has been criticised for his drift away from democracy in the last two years. Diminishing press freedom and human rights violations have been reported. The president has also been condemned for his avoidance of the press and his tendency to take vital decisions in secret.12 But one political commentator noted that "very few people in this country have any real idea of what democracy means. I doubt things would have been much different regardless of who was in power."13
Relations with Neighbours
In addition to internal political conflicts, Armenia has had troublesome relations with some of its neighbours. The conflict with Azerbaijan over the status of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh started in 1988 when the area declared independence from Azerbaijan. It gradually escalated following pogroms of Armenians within Azerbaijan and Karabakh. Armenia supported the Karabakh Armenians in the course of the war. Since the fighting began, some 25,000 people have died. The war also produced over a million refugees.14
Eventually, the Armenian army prevailed and, in addition, the Armenians in Karabakh seized about twenty percent of Azeri territory. The international community condemned these actions, as well as human rights violations on both sides. The December 1994 cease-fire and subsequent peace talks have not yet resulted in a peace agreement, and the situation in the region remains unstable.
In April 1997, Azerbaijani and Armenian forces clashed along the border and in the vicinity of Nagorno-Karabakh in the most serious confrontation since the truce took effect.15 Although Armenia has not officially recognised Nagorno-Karabakh's independence, the government of Ter-Petrossian has exercised influence and supported the region both militarily and economically. Opinion polls taken in Armenia have shown an overwhelming support for the absorption of the region into Armenia.
Armenia's south-west neighbour, Turkey, has supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by establishing an economic blockade against Armenia. Turkey and Armenia have been traditional enemies. The massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 are deeply imbedded in the collective memory of the Armenian people. Over one million of their ancestors (out of approximately two million Armenian population living in the area at the time) perished, either killed or died of famine, disease of exhaustion, during Turkish mass deportations in 1915-1918.16 Although the United Nations and several other international organisations recognised the genocide, the Turkish government has never officially admitted the crime.
Georgia, Armenia's northern neighbour, has been friendly but has been dealing with its own unresolved war of secession in Abkhazia. Also, the war in Georgia has resulted in cutting the vital rail connection between Armenia and Russia. Russia has kept a low profile in the Armenian-Azeri conflict, but it still maintains 12,000 soldiers in Armenia to protect its borders.17 The relationship of Armenia with Iran has been good and the countries are trading partners.
Armenia is a small landlocked country with few natural resources and small amount of arable land. In addition to the blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the country's economic situation in recent years has been exacerbated by the closure of its only nuclear power plant following the 1988 earthquake.18 Yet, despite the energy crisis, according to the Economist, Armenia "performed the sort of budget-tightening that makes officials of the IMF glow with enthusiasm."19 A tough reform program instituted by Ter-Petrossian has helped to steer the country towards a market economy, with low inflation and foreign debt, and rising industrial production. It is estimated that the GDP grew by 6.5 per cent in 1996. This "success," however, has come at the cost of the deterioration of overall quality of life of its citizens. A recent UNDP report characterised the society as comprising a rich elite and "a vast army of poor and deprived."20 According to World Bank estimates, ninety percent of Armenians live below poverty level,21 and unemployment reaches fifty percent in some regions. Ter-Petrossian has been increasingly criticised for his failure to improve living standards of the country's 3.5 million population.22 For instance, according to commentators, his far-reaching privatisation programme has mainly benefited the old Armenian elite.
The harsh realities of everyday life in Armenia, high unemployment and bleak prospects for the future have contributed to a huge outflow of its citizens in recent years. It is estimated that approximately 400,000 people, about one-sixth of its population, have emigrated since 1991.23 Most have gone to Russia and to the United States. According to the data provided by NGOs, men are the majority of those who left. Consequently, women now constitute seventy percent of the country's population.24
The following assessment of women's status in Armenia is based in part on the document "Declaration Regarding the Status of Armenian Women and Functioning of Non-Governmental Organisations" which IWRAW received from the Women's Council of Armenia. Written for the Beijing Conference in 1995, IWRAW received the document with a 1997 update prepared in collaboration with the League of Women Voters (LWV). The Women's Council of Armenia was established in 1987 and is one of the largest women's NGOs in Armenia. The Council states that it was established in order to defend the rights of women and children of the Republic and increase women's role in the political, socio-economic and cultural life of the country. LWV was created in 1996 in an effort to promote women's participation in the electoral process. IWRAW also received information from the Centre for Gender Studies in Yerevan, and the Association of Women with University Education.
MEASURES TO ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION - Convention Article 2
Following independence in September 1991, the Armenian Parliament ratified most of the international treaties protecting human rights. However, sources say that the government has been extremely slow to begin establishing the mechanisms necessary to protect women from discrimination.
The Women's Council reports that after a Russian study of the various institutional mechanisms within the European Parliament was presented to the Armenian government, noting that similar structures existed in Russia and other CIS countries, a division of "family matters" was formed within the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. The Women's Council emphasises that this mechanism does not have adequate authority or status to deal with the problems assigned to it. The Council goes on to say that, in their opinion, women's development issues will not go forward without long-term projects in all spheres of government. Also, without a national structure, at the level of a women's ministry or office for women's affairs within the president's office, to promote women's equality, women's status will continue to deteriorate in all spheres of life.
BASIC RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS - Convention Article 3
Armenia's prisons are still run according to the rules of the Soviet prison system. The government has proposed prison system reforms which are to include the establishment of general and high-security prisons for women, but no information is available on the progress of these projects.
According to the Centre for Gender Studies, the conditions of women in prisons reflect violations and discrimination against women found in the Armenian society. The group conducted a study in the women's jail at Abovian which found that the prison lacks basic sanitary necessities and medical assistance. According to our sources, women are not provided separate rooms which would allow for a conjugal visit with their husbands while male prisoners are allowed to stay with their wives for several days. The group also reported that women incarcerated for simple crimes, such as petty theft, were kept in the same cells with criminals sentenced for more serious crimes. They claim that such a situation demoralises the prisoners instead of contributing to their rehabilitation.
TEMPORARY SPECIAL MEASURES - Convention Article 4
Women constitute the majority of students in institutions of higher education, but this has not translated into meaningful employment opportunities following graduation. Few women can be found in executive positions. The prevalent attitude in the society, echoed in the government report, is the belief that women's foremost role is as wives and mothers. The government's report to CEDAW repeatedly refers to women's traditional and natural role as mothers. Sources say that this is consistent with the fact that the government has not taken any substantial initiatives to promote the advancement of women in the public sphere. The National Commission on Women was formed only after pressure from the UN.
According to the Association of Women with University Education, after 1990 the government has adopted no laws aimed at the improvement of women's status in the society. To the contrary, especially in the last four years, laws that have been passed have reduced social guarantees and eliminated several important social benefits and services directly impacting women. The government lowered salaries and at the same time cancelled subsidies for children over 5 years old, which put women in an even more precarious position than before.25
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3,5,6,12,5 and 16
The old Soviet legal code is still in use in Armenia. It cites specific punishments for rape, forced abortion and forbidding a woman from marrying. There is, however, no specific law banning violence against women. According to the U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices, in the first nine months of 1996, the Interior Ministry registered 32 cases of rape and attempted rape. The actual numbers are thought to be much higher. Armenian society is traditional and patriarchal, and consequently the majority of cases go unreported. The government report to CEDAW states that the "amount of such cases may be higher and those who have suffered assault do not turn to the help of law-enforcement bodies, because they would prefer to talk about their case with female personnel." At the same time, the government does not explain whether there has been any effort to hire female staff who would be more appropriate to work on these cases.
SEX ROLES AND STEREOTYPING - Convention Article 5
According to the Association of Women with University Education, the government has done nothing to overcome the stereotypical understanding of women's role and place in the society. In fact, government officials continue to refer to the "natural" roles of women. Several other Armenian women IWRAW interviewed felt that this government's emphasis on the maternal role of women is meant to distract from the problems that women face in the society, which include their minimal role in political decision-making and lack of professional opportunities.
POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Articles 7 and 8
In the Soviet period, women's participation in the legislative and executive branches of the government reached 36.6 per cent. When the first free parliamentary elections were held in Armenia in 1990, the percentage of women in the legislative body decreased tenfold. Women in municipal and regional councils decreased to about 10.7 percent and in the executive branch even more. At present, there is only one woman minister, three deputy ministers, and one chief executive in a local authority is a woman. Only 12 out of 190 deputies in the parliament are women. Out of 124 judges, only 23 are female. In the Public Prosecutor's office women account for 20.7 percent of employees.
Although the women's party Shamiram won eight seats in recent elections and became the second largest group in Parliament, the overall number of women in this body still does not exceed five percent. The government explains that, unlike in Soviet times, "[they] are really engaged in the legislation making process and are not only formally registered as such for the sake of making the statistics look more 'democratic' ... ." Nevertheless, women's NGOs have expressed alarm at this situation and have called for the establishment of quotas to increase women's participation in the executive and legislative branches of the government.
According to Barbara Hall of the NGO Training and Resource Centre in Yerevan, women actively participate in the political life of the country through various non-governmental organisations. Currently, there are thirty registered women's non-governmental organisations and several unregistered organisations which deal specifically with issues affecting women.
Armenian NGOs have attempted to promote women's human rights by making the international human rights treaties known and available to the public. To serve this purpose, in 1994 they founded a women's weekly Aragast. In 1995, President Ter-Petrossian issued an order to close down the publication. In January 1995, women's organisations wrote a letter to the President explaining the importance of the newspaper for the advancement of women and its role as a unifying force for all Armenian women's organisations before the Beijing Conference. Despite repeated appeals from the Women's Council and other NGOs, the government has never responded.
EDUCATION - Convention Article 10
Women's right to education was incorporated into Armenia's constitution seventy years ago.26 Education is highly prized in the society, and Armenia has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Both boys and girls receive equal educational opportunities, and at present more women receive university and postgraduate education than men.27 Unfortunately, this has not led to meaningful professional opportunities for women.
EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11
The Centre for Gender Studies reports that men are routinely the preferred candidates in hiring, which is conducted by predominantly male bosses. An overwhelming number of women in Armenia occupy low-skilled positions. According to Barbara Merguerian of the Armenian International Women's Association, almost as a rule, even the most educated women are left out of the highest-paid and executive positions. Women predominate in non-managerial positions in manufacturing, primary and secondary education, and in health centres -- jobs which typically pay the lowest salaries. Women with higher education are often forced to work as restaurant cooks, provide cleaning services or do handicrafts.28 Moreover, there are no mechanisms to enforce the anti-discrimination labour laws -- labour rights violations are commonly not reported and no measures are being taken to improve the situation.
Women NGOs state that the increasing social inequality and poverty in the country has affected women more than men. For example, women are the first victims of growing unemployment. The government report explains higher unemployment among women by the fact that "traditionally women are more oriented towards family and children." The NGOs, however, estimate that eighty percent of women who would like to work cannot find employment. In April 1997, the Director of the employment centre in Yerevan reported that 78 percent of the unemployed registered with his office are women, most of whom have higher education.29 Sources indicate that the highest paying positions are out of reach for the majority of women in Armenia. Those who find jobs earn about 75 percent of men's salary.
Health care is one of the fields where women are in the majority. According to the Centre for Gender Studies, women comprise seventy percent of the doctors in Armenia. However, among doctors occupying senior positions, only about twenty percent are women.30
According to the Centre for Gender Studies report, women who do not fit into the official labour market have been forced to seek other ways to generate income. In recent years, there has been a growing trend for Armenian women to engage in unofficial trade. These women travel to neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, and bring merchandise for sale back to Armenia. Our sources say that the government is well aware of the extent of this phenomenon, but has done nothing to regulate or upgrade the growing industry. As a result, these businesses have no legal protection, cannot obtain insurance, and its owners are not entitled to health protection or social benefits. These women are often exposed to sexual violence and crime.
HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Convention Article 12
Armenia has a high abortion rate -- 2.7 abortions per woman. Due to the lack of contraceptives and effective family planning information and services, abortion remains the primary means of fertility control in Armenia. The government report refers to these statistics, but states that, although higher than in most Western countries, the rate is the lowest among the other newly independent states. According to IWRAW sources, the government does not promote any programmes which would aim at improving the quality of family planning services.
NGOs also report on the poor condition of prenatal services. As a result, there has been a considerable increase in the incidence of anaemia in pregnant women in recent years, as well as deficiencies in breast-feeding, and other related health problems. As women's health deteriorates, the children are born weaker. Also, our sources report that, contrary to the government's official claims, malnutrition affects increasing numbers of children under the age of 5 years old.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION - Convention Article 13
Women's organisations have called for the establishment of special programmes in order to stimulate women's involvement in the privatisation process. According to the Women's Council, women have been generally left out of privatisation. Sources say that during the process of land privatisation, for example, land was registered in women's names only in cases where the man in the family was absent. The Association of Women with University Education claims that the government has violated women's economic rights by their exclusion from the process.
RURAL WOMEN - Convention Article 14
According to information received from the NGOs, the difficult economic situation of the country has particularly affected rural women. The overwhelming majority of rural women work as agricultural labourers. The countryside is plagued by constant shortages of water and cultivation equipment. The government report to CEDAW dismisses the severity of women's situation in villages by the fact that many of them are refugees "unaccustomed to rural life." Women NGOs emphasise the deteriorating physical and psychological condition of women living in the countryside and urge that it merits special attention from the government. Several NGOs felt that the government needs to take more committed action to improve the availability of health care services in rural areas.
2 "Second Round July 29 in Armenian Parliamentary Elections," The Associated Press, 16 July 1995, on-line. back
3 John Laughland, "Democracy Gets Left Out in the Cold in Armenia," The Wall Street Journal Europe, 12 July 1995, on-line. back
4 Editorial Op-Ed, "Armenia Election Flawed," Montreal Gazette, 11 July 1995, on-line. back
5 Laughland. back
6 According to press reports, the Central Election Committee (supposed to be neutral) printed 200,000 copies of the draft constitution and urged a "yes" vote. back
7 "Armenians Approve Constitution," Christian Science Monitor, 10 July 1995, on-line. back
8 The government claimed that the party was involved in terrorism and drug-trafficking and sentenced several of its members in a controversial trial in 1996. back
9 Following the announcement of the presidential election results, Manukian and tens of thousands of his supporters entered the parliament to talk to the council chairman. When he failed to meet with him, the crowds beat and took hostage the speaker of the parliament and his deputy. In the ensuing clashes with the police, approximately 50 protesters were injured. In the course of the protests, opposition supporters and journalist were also beaten. back
10 In fact, Ter-Petrossian was a favorite in this election until a few weeks before the election when three of the six opposition candidates withdrew from the race and pledged support for Manukian. back
11 "Armenian Opposition Calls for New Elections," Reuters North American Wire, 18 April 1997, on-line. back
12 Michael Specter, "Drift to Dictatorship Clouds Armenia's Happiness," New York Times, 3 January 1997, A1, on-line. back
13 Ara Tatevosyan, "Armenian Election Results in Dispute," Moscow News, 10 October 1996, on-line. back
14 David Rieff, "Case Study in Ethnic Strife," Foreign Affairs v. 76, no. 2 (March/April 1997): 118. back
15 "Clashes continue in Azerbaijan," Associate Press, 19 April 1997; Washington Post, 28 April 1997, on-line. back
16 Jonathan Rugman, "Memory of Slaughter Haunts a Nation," The Guardian, 16. back
17 "Armenia. Yet it Moves," The Economist, 21 September 1996, on-line. back
18 The Metsamor power plant was reopened in October 1995. back
19 "A Fearful Calm in the Caucasus," The Economist, 11 November 1995, 45. back
20 United Nations Development Program (Yerevan 1995), Armenia Human Development Report 1995. back
21 "Armenia's Boss," Jane's Information Group Limited, Foreign Report, 24 October 1996, on-line. back
22 David Hoffman, "After Grim Times, Armenia Lightens Up; Electricity, Normalcy Return to Armenia," The Washington Post, 18 September 1996, A21. back
23 Hoffman. back
24 Women's Council of Armenia, Declaration Regarding the Status of Armenian Women and Functioning of Non-Governmental Organizations (Yerevan: Women's Council of Armenia, May 1995, typewritten). back
25 Association of Women with University Education, Regarding Compliance of the Republic of Armenia with the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Yerevan: Association of Women with University Education, 26 May 1997, typewritten). back
26 Ibid. back
27 U.S. Department of State, Armenia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 January 1997). back
28 Democracy Union, Center for Gender Studies, Women in Armenia, (Yerevan: Democracy Union, 1996), 12. back
29 "Women Unemployment Discussed," Armenpress Bulletin, 4 April 1997, on-line. back
30 Democracy Union, 20. back
COPYRIGHT© 2009 All materials on this web site copyright of International Women's Rights Action Watch, University of Minnesota, USA