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IWPR Armenia Hosts Discussion Forums

Social and national affairs debated at summer series of round tables.
By IWPR
  • Artur Sakunts (left) and Hranush Kharatyan, IWPR's event on Police Action during Peaceful Assemblies. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    Artur Sakunts (left) and Hranush Kharatyan, IWPR's event on Police Action during Peaceful Assemblies. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • Speakers and moderator in IWPR's event on Police Action during Peaceful Assemblies. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    Speakers and moderator in IWPR's event on Police Action during Peaceful Assemblies. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    IWPR's round table discussion on the employment problems of orphanage graduates in Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • Shirak Torosyan (left) and Giro Manoyan in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    Shirak Torosyan (left) and Giro Manoyan in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • Speakers and moderator in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    Speakers and moderator in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
  • Stepa Safaryan (left) and Shirak Torosyan in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)
    Stepa Safaryan (left) and Shirak Torosyan in IWPR's discussion on developments in Turkey and their repercussions on Armenia. (Photo: IWPR Armenia)

IWPR Armenia hosted a series of animated discussions this summer to give journalists the chance to question experts and officials on issues of public interest.

Held in conjunction with the Public Journalism Club (PJC) and the Media Center, the first event looked at the challenges facing graduates of Armenia’s state care system.  

(See video recording of the debate on Youtube here).

There are currently six orphanages under the authority of the ministry of labour and social affairs, three of them for children with special needs.

In the past, when orphans turned 18, they had to leave their care homes and fend for themselves.  This often proved difficult because they were unable to cope with living on their own.

Since 2003, orphanage graduates are supported by NGOs until they are 23, but housing remains a problem. 

(See also Armenia: Orphans Struggle to Overcome Stigma).

“The biggest problem orphanage graduates face is integration into society. Psychologists [and] social workers try to ease the integration process for them,” said Lena Hayrapetyan, head of the department of family, women and children´s issues at the ministry of labour and social affairs.

NGO-run transition homes provide help with education, healthcare, choosing a profession and employment as well as with integration into society, Hayrepatyan explained.

Some 500 children have left Armenian orphanages over the past 13 years and received state support.  Among them were 160 young people whom the government also provided with housing.

“Currently, within the scope of changes, legal reforms are under way,” Hayrapetyan continued. “It is intended to strengthen the scope of authority of psychologists and social workers to carry out more advanced work on integration problems among children.”

Hayk Khemchyan, child protection officer at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), noted that a five-year programme had been launched in Armenia with funding from the USAID and UNICEF to revamp 22 childcare institutions, including orphanages and boarding schools.   

“The programme aims at the reorganisation of such institutions into centres providing multi-functional services to families or children, depending on their needs or their families,” Khemchyan said. 

He added that the ministry of labour and social affairs had also drafted legislation reforming the adoption system.

“The options of alternative care include child custody, guardianship and daycare services,” he added.

According to Mira Antonyan of Armenia´s Child Protection Network, the government needs to get involved before an orphan turns 18 so as to prepare the child for living independently and choosing a profession.

“Steps should be taken well in advance.  The child should have an idea about all these things already in the orphanage,” Antonyan said.

POLICE AND PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The second panel, moderated by journalist Arshaluys Mghdesyan, focused on the dramatic events in Yerevan at the end of July.

(See video recording of the debate on Youtube here).

There appeared to be significant public sympathy with the group of 31 gunmen who seized a police station on July 17. There were peaceful demonstrations demanding that the authorities avoid drastic measures to end the standoff.  Instead, some 150 people were arrested during the first days of the protest.    

Representatives of the Armenian police and the ombudsman’s office were also invited to the discussion, hosted jointly by IWPR and the Public Journalism Club, but they declined to join.

However, the ombudsman’s office sent a report that said it had received around 114 emergency calls about the detention of civilians by police and incidents where peaceful assembly was obstructed.

During the first days of the standoff, the ombudsman’s office logged around 100 detainees in police stations in Yerevan and in the regions of Shirak, Lori and Armavir.

(See also Hostage Crisis Continues in Armenia).

The police press service declined to comment, saying that investigations against the people who were detained was still ongoing.

Arthur Sakunts, chairman of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly – Vanadzor, told the IWPR event that over 400 people had been arrested between July 17 and 28.

(See also Making Sense of Armenia's Crisis).

Ara Ghazaryan, lawyer and co-founder of the Rule of Law NGO, said that the police had simply exacted mass detentions.

“There is interference with the rights of people without any distinction, whereas European law states that the reason for an arrest should be personalised,” said Ghazaryan.

Ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan said the arrests had been effectively abductions.

“This is a manhunt and kidnapping, when people are taken to police stations or military bases without legal grounds.  I think this is state-initiated terrorism.  Even the family members of the gunmen were summoned to the police, where they were intimidated and threatened,” Kharatyan said. 

The day after the discussion, several hundred more peaceful protesters were arrested.  The police used force including stun grenades, blasters and batons. Dozens were injured, among them some 20 reporters.

ERDOGAN’S FUTURE PLANS

The failed military coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 caused great concern in the South Caucasus region and was the topic of a discussion hosted by IWPR Armenia in August.

(See the video here).

Developments including mass arrests and a slide towards authoritarianism were being closely watched in Armenia. 

(See also Caucasus Faces Fallout from Turkey´s Failed Coup).

Turkey´s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric residing in the United States, of masterminding the coup and demanded his extradition. Gülen and his supporters have also been active in the South Caucasus, particularly in Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic relations and their joint border has been closed since 1993 on Turkey´s initiative.

“Erdogan is leading Turkey openly towards Islamism.  He wants to strengthen his influence in the region thanks to the Islamic factor,” said Shirak Torosyan, a lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party.

According to Giro Manoyan, director of the international secretariat of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun party (ARF-D), the failed coup attempt triggered a revolution in Turkey initiated by Erdogan.

“If Turkey once had internal constraining mechanisms in terms of its foreign policy – the parliament and the government - now everything is in the hands of Erdogan, and Turkey is becoming more dangerous,” he added.

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