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Armenian FM: We Have Always Had Very Strong Relations with Muslim Nations and States

At the Conference Preventing and Countering Hate Crimes against Christians and Members of other Religious Groups - Perspectives from the OSCE and beyond, the Foreign Minister of Armenia Edward Nalbandian made a statement, which reads as follows:

"Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to warmly welcome all participants of the conference and thank the OSCE Austrian Chairmanship and the ODIHR for its organization in cooperation with Armenia. The theme and the focus of the Conference are timely and well-chosen providing an ample opportunity for addressing the challenges faced by Christians and members of other religious groups.

Several reasons contribute to the importance of this Conference for Armenia.

First, historically being situated on the crossroads of different civilizations Armenia has cultivated deeply rooted traditions of coexistence and respect towards other cultures and religions. Being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, Armenians stand among the foundations of the Christian civilization. We always have had very strong relations with Muslim nations and states, as well as with others. As a nation that has communities in around hundred countries of the World Armenians have first-hand knowledge on the value of tolerance and on the problems of discrimination and hate speech. We consider this Conference in Yerevan as an opportunity for presenting and sharing our national experiences.

Second, being historically persecuted in their homeland under foreign domination, including based on the religious grounds, after rejoining the family of sovereign states Armenians cannot close eyes to the sufferings of those who continue to experience religious discrimination and hate-motivated crimes.

We actively contribute to the international efforts aimed at preventing identity based discrimination and violence. Our most recent initiatives in this regard include the adoption of the resolution on Genocide prevention at the UN Human Rights Council in 2015 and the adoption in the same year of the resolution on International Day of commemoration of the victims of genocide at the UN General Assembly. These efforts will continue.

Countering hate speech, intolerance and xenophobia was one of the main priorities of Armenia during its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2013. At the wake of terrorist activities of Daesh and other terrorist groups, Armenia has been among the first in the United Nations and the OSCE to raise the issue of protection of religious and ethnic groups and strongly advocate for the strengthening of the international commitments in this regard.

Third, the hosting of this Conference in Armenia is a further step in our efforts to raise awareness on the plight of endangered religious groups. I recall the two high level events on "Supporting the Rights of Christians, particularly in the Middle East" and on “Mutual Respect and Peaceful Coexistence as a Condition of Interreligious Peace and Stability: Supporting Christians and other Communities”, held respectively in 2015 and 2017 in Geneva in the frameworks of the UN Human Rights Council, co-organized by Armenia, Russia, Holy See and Lebanon alongside with other partner countries.

We have also supported the initiatives of on streamlining issue of protection of religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East. Armenia contributed to the International Conference on the Victims of Ethnic and Religious Violence in the Middle East, in Paris in 2015 and the Conference on victims of ethnic and religious violence, in Madrid this June.

Armenia has also focused on the plight of refugees and migrants from the vulnerable groups of the Middle East during such recent international events as the 2016 UN Summit to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, 2016 Leaders' Summit on Refugees, 2017 OSCE Mediterranean conference on large movements of migrants and refugees.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no doubt that all those conferences and discussions that I have mentioned and many others to which Armenia has actively contributed are of great importance. Their aim is to set up and improve the mechanisms and bring us closer to the implementation of our obligations. In the OSCE alone we have developed a broad range of commitments to combat racism, xenophobia, discrimination, anti-Semitism and intolerance, including against Christians, Jews, Muslims, other religious groups and to prevent and respond to hate crimes. There is a consensus among participating states that adherence to these commitments is crucial for the maintenance of peace, stability and security. Thus, it is high time now to ensure that the OSCE possess effective mechanisms and expertise to assist participating States in taking appropriate action to protect Christians and members of other religions.

I would like to bring one example in this regard. The Cracow Document endorsed by the 1994 OSCE Budapest Summit stipulates that “the participating States will pay due attention to monuments and objects of religious origin whose original communities no longer use them or no longer exist in the particular region.” Numerous Armenian churches, monasteries, cemeteries destroyed, erased, confiscated and appropriated in the 1990s and 2000s in the places from where the indigenous Armenian population has been expelled stand as a stark reminder of the cleavages between the commitments and their implementation. Such situations should not be permitted.

Recent international reports draw a quite appalling picture with regard to the religious freedom in the world. According to one of them nearly 80 percent of the humanity lives in places where restrictions on religion are either “high” or “very high.” According to others reports about the deterioration of the situation in this regard, including in some OSCE participating states that are in the immediate neighborhood of Armenia. In these countries the areas of particular concern are the rising numbers of the prisoners of conscience, dissemination of the hatred, especially through the media and education.

There is a certain tendency in the OSCE area among those participating states whose non-compliance with the OSCE human dimension commitments particularly with respect to the fundamental freedoms is well known, to disguise human rights violations by depicting themselves as islands of tolerance and non-discrimination or even best examples to be followed by others. Portraying themselves multicultural, multireligious in one organization, seeking religious solidarity in other organization and finally nurturing own population by hatred as a substitute to human rights may work only as a short-term propaganda but will certainly undermine stability and security in the region.

Unfortunately, religious dimension has often been invoked to mobilize support in the conflict situations that have never had anything to do with the faith. Some organizations, which are based on religious solidarity, support these claims potentially exacerbating already complex conflict situations. We believe that the OSCE and first and foremost those participating States that are members of such religion-based organizations should resolutely reject such threatening practices. In reality most of the current destructive conflicts take place not between but within the same religion and this is evident especially on the example of the modern Middle East.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today nowhere the hate crimes against Christians and members of other religious groups are as widespread as in the Middle East where three major world religions were born. For centuries the Armenian nation has constituted a part of the multicultural and multi-religious mosaic of this region. This diversity of the Middle East was once a remarkable asset. However, the interchanging waves of nationalism and religious fundamentalism have significantly altered the religious and ethnic structure of the region. As a result Christianity in the Middle East declined from about 20 percent of the population to less than 5 percent in the course of the 20th century and the numbers went even less in the beginning of 21st century. In Iraq, Christians declined by 80 percent in the past decade. In Syria, the Christian population has fallen from 1 million 250 thousand to less than 500,000 in the course of just past six years. The once thriving Armenian community in Syria has also sharply declined. Armenia has received more than twenty two thousand refugees only from Syria, making our country the third largest recipient of Syrian refugees in Europe on per capita basis.

Yazidi people in Iraq are one of the main victims of religious based violence in the Middle East. International community has recognized genocidal nature of the barbaric actions of terrorist groups against Yazidi people, their cultural and religious heritage. Armenia has addressed the problem of protection of the Yazidi people in various international fora, including the OSCE.

The mass exodus from this region of members of the religious groups is largely an outcome of inhumane ideology and atrocities perpetrated by terrorist organizations. It should be made clear once and again that religion has nothing to do with the terrorists, who misuse it. What we are countering here are crimes against civilization perpetrated by Daesh and other terrorist groups. We condemn these actions in the strongest terms.

Safeguarding the remnants of diversity in the Middle East is important for restoration of regional safety and security. It may contribute to the prevention of the spillover effect that threatens the neighboring regions and far beyond. We believe that the OSCE and its Mediterranean partners have strong shared interest in this regard. The phenomenon of the terrorists returning from the Middle East battlefields threatens not just the security of the countries of their origin, but may become a destabilizing factor in other regions, stimulating crisis situations and regional conflicts. The Daesh style beheadings and other despicable atrocities are already not limited just to the Middle East. The recent research showed that there are considerable numbers of fighters in the ranks of Daesh from OSCE participating States that are neighboring to Armenia. This is a matter of concern for us and I am sure many OSCE participating states share similar concerns.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The civil society groups and the organizations are essential in the struggle against discrimination and intolerance. I hope that the two-day ODIHR workshop, which took place in Yerevan prior to this Conference helped to further identify the areas where the civil society can contribute with its added value to counter hatred and bias motivated violence against Christians and other religious groups. I am glad to note the wide presence at this Conference of representatives of the civil society from different religious backgrounds.

I would also like to note that Armenia has strongly supported the Chairmanship priority on countering violent extremism and radicalization also with focus on youth. We share the views that young people are important partners for the participating States in our hate crime prevention efforts. Investment in youth, the struggle for their hearts and minds will largely determine the societies of the future. It is among the aspirations of the OSCE to build a future free of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia.

I wish all participants of the Conference fruitful and result-oriented discussions. I hope that recommendations that may come out of the Conference will provide a food for thought for the OSCE and its institutions for their further consideration and work.

Thank you."

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