Jehovah’s Witnesses: ‘enemies of the state’
June 2017 by Armine Avetisyan
Armenian identity is so tightly interwoven with religion that it
can often be heard that the only true Armenian is a follower of the Armenian
Church. Contempt, discrimination, and outright hatred towards religious
minorities have led to a worryingly widespread perception of them as outsiders
— a threat to Armenian statehood.
Anna (not her real
name), 45, comes from Gyumri. She used to work as an Armenian language teacher
in a local school, but was forced to leave after the school authorities
discovered that she was a Pentecostal Christian.
‘I would never have
thought that simply attending meetings of my religious organisation in my free
time could be a reason for being fired from work. I was a teacher for ten years
and my colleagues described me as a loved and respected professional. One day,
I was invited to the principal’s office where he asked me to hand in my notice,
because many parents had complained that a “sectarian” was teaching their
children’, Anna told OC Media.
Anna recalls that she
initially tried to fight for her rights, but eventually got frustrated and left
the school voluntarily four years ago.
‘I left voluntarily,
hoping I would find another job. The whole year turned out to be full of
suffering. All the schools I approached slammed their doors in my face, because
I was considered a “heretic”. If not for my brothers and sisters in faith, I
would have starved to death’, Anna said.
Despite always being
able to count on moral support from her religious community, one day she
attempted to end her life, tired of the almost universal scorn.
‘I drank bleach in
order to die, but Jesus saved me — thank the Lord. I am grateful to him that I
now have my little shop, which makes me feel human again’, Anna said.
Anna is now earning
her daily bread with trade, selling fresh produce.
‘I’m happy I’m able to
help people in need. Each morning I distribute fresh and healthy produce to
people in need. We must all cleanse our souls and share what we have with our
neighbours’, Anna said.
Although there are no
official statistics to back it up, there is anecdotal evidence that Anna’s
suicide attempt because of religious discrimination is far from unique in
According to official
data, there are 66 registered organisations carrying out religious activities
According to the 2011
census, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the biggest religious domination in
the country, followed by 93% of its 3 million inhabitants. Other Christian
denominations make up 2.1% of the population, including Catholics,
Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
considers these to be official religious organisations, although there are also
several groups that only have the status of NGO, such as the Maharishi
Transcendental Meditation Community or the Unification Church. Unregistered
communities include Buddhists and the Hare Krishna community.
Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religious belief to every
citizen. In theory, the rights of religious minorities are protected, yet in
practice, the picture is rather different.
The US State Department pointed out in their 2015 International Religious Freedom Report that religious minorities in Armenia are often subjected to various forms of abuse — obstacles in obtaining building permits for places of worship, and discrimination in education, the military, law enforcement, and public sector employment.
The report also points
out preferential government support for the Armenian Apostolic Church and
negative media reports often referring to religious minorities in a derogatory
manner as ‘cults’ or even as ‘enemies of the state’. It also pointed to
instances of verbal and physical harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses while
A family torn apart by
‘My family happiness
lasted for only two years’, Kristine (not her real name), 35, recalls with
sadness. She is currently taking care of her 5-year-old son alone.
Kristine comes from
the city of Vanadzor, in northern Armenia’s Lori Province. Six years ago she
got married and moved with her husband to Yerevan. The first months were happy
for the newlyweds, especially when they found out that they were to become
‘When my child fell
ill, I suffered a lot. At the hospital I met Jehovah’s Witnesses, who provided
me with a lot of moral support. Over time, I began to read their books and I
realised that I was living my life incorrectly, and that I needed different
religious nourishment’, Kristine told OC Media.
After she decided to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses,
her life changed.