Staunton, January 25 – A debate has broken out in Armenia which highlights a problem that almost all the post-Soviet space faces: In the USSR, many of the smallest nationalities had deputies appointed to soviets on the basis of quotas; but in post-Soviet times, they are often too small to win elections against candidates from larger ethnic communities.
Because the memory of the old quota system is still very much alive and because many among such minorities believe that they should be ensured representation, many are demanding the restoration of a quota system, something which among other things highlights the strength of ethnic identifications as opposed to broader civic ones.
Armenia is the most ethnically homogeneous of the post-Soviet countries, with 98.2 percent of the population identifying as ethnic Armenians. But there are nonetheless eight ethnic minority communities registered in the 2011, the largest being the Yezidis (35,308), Russians (11,911), Assyrians (2769), and Kurds (2162), according to the 2011 census.
Even with the cleverest gerrymandering imaginable, none of these groups would have representation in the Armenian parliament, and so, Kavkaz-Uzel journalist Tigran Petrosyan says, a debate has broken out between those who think they should have quotas and those who believe this would not help these groups (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/296515/).
Some Armenian deputies in the parliament want to establish a system whereby the four largest ethnic minorities would each get a deputy in parliament, but they are insistent, Petrosyan says, that these be chosen by the current pan-Armenian parties rather than advanced by the ethnic groups themselves.
Were it to be otherwise, Ogaanes Saakyan of the parliamentary commission on state-legal issues says, there would be the great probability that “dozens of new social ethnic organizations would be registered, each of which would propose its own representatives” and thus divide these communities and Armenia itself.
The leaders of the minority communities don’t see things the same way. Arsen Mikhail, head of the Assyrian union, says that most problems his community faces are the problems that all Armenians face and therefore require a common solution. Having a separate representative while desirable would not change that.
Yury Yakovenko, head of the Rossiya Russian organization, says his group hasn’t been approached for nominees by any of the existing Armenian parties but that he isn’t concerned because Armenians can represent Russian interests and because “all issues are resolved via the coordination council in the presidential apparatus on national minority issues.”
But despite that, the Russian activist says, he favors having quotas for non-Armenian deputies because that would show that “the problems of the ethnic communities in the country are beginning to be given greater attention.”
Boris Murazi, head of the Yezidi Sinjar Union, also wants to see representatives of ethnic minorities given assigned quotas. They can help Armenians avoid mistakes, he says, as when they blocked plans to make a course on “The History of the Armenian Church” a required course in schools.
But most Armenian political analysts are opposed to the introduction of such quotas, arguing as does Aleksandr Iskandaryan, the director of the Caucasus Institute, that any arrangement of that kind will do little or nothing to solve the problems of minorities. Four deputies, which is all the minorities would get, would remain largely powerless, he says.
There are other problems with the idea, Iskandaryan says. Given the small size of these groups, it will be hard to find suitable candidates. Moreover, most of the ethnic Russian community is made up of Molokane whose religion precludes their service in any political office.
Armenia isn’t like Lebanon, Ruben Megrabyan of the Center for Political and International Research says; and he points to the two biggest problems with the quota proposal. On the one hand, he says, there are no prominent politicians from these groups and the groups themselves are far from united.
And on the other, and perhaps most importantly, “the problems of the national minorities [of Armenia] will not be solved in the parliament.”