Armenian Parliament Adopts Dual Citizenship Law

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The Armenian parliament, in a vote of 66 to 5, Monday overwhelmingly approved the third and final reading of a bill on dual citizenship, which would allow members of the Armenian Diaspora to hold citizenship. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation the main proponent of the right to dual nationality welcomed the adoption of the bill. ARF deputies celebrated it with an improvised reception promptly held in their parliament offices. "This law is an opportunity to consolidate our nation," one of them, Ruben Hovsepian, said. "This legislation will allow Armenian living in different countries to consider themselves full-fledged citizens of Armenia," he said ARF leaders earlier shrugged off opposition claims that the party has been strongly advocating introduction of dual citizenship because it has many members and supporters in the Diaspora. The bill said people of Armenian descent over the age of 18 can apply for Armenian citizenship and must have a three-year permanent residency in the country. The applicant must be able to speak Armenian and have familiarity with the country’s constitution. Citizenship may be granted to couples, where one of the spouses or their children is citizens of Armenia. The bill denies Armenian citizenship to people whose activity may damage the country’s national interests. Dual citizenship law allows for participation in the elections, with proof of residency. However, dual citizens cannot seek elected office. People with dual citizenship may serve in the Armenian army, but they are exempt from it if they have served 12 months in the armed forces of the country of their primary citizenship or 18 months as alternative military service. It also says citizens of Armenia who have received a second citizenship would not be exempt from mandatory service in the Armenian armed forces. The legislators representing the governing Republican Party insisted as recently as last Thursday that dual citizens from the worldwide Armenian Diaspora be granted voting rights only if they live in Armenia during at least one of the five years preceding a particular election. The demand was backed by the parliament’s opposition minority which boycotted the parliament vote. Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who authored the amendmen’s on behalf of the government, rejected it as unconstitutional. Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and virtually all other Republicans eventually fell in line, suggesting that President Robert Kocharian personally pushed for the bill’s adoption. Torosian attributed the U-turn to a "political agreement" reached by the country’s governing coalition. The leader of the Republican Party’s parliament faction, Galust Sahakian, denied any pressure from Kocharian. "The matter should not be linked with the president," he said. The five votes against the amendmen’s, made possible by the November 2005 abolition of a constitutional ban on dual citizenship, came from the deputies affiliated with the pro-Kocharian United Labor Party, which is unhappy with the fact that dual citizens will be allowed to hold ministerial positions in the Armenian government. The amended law on citizenship only bars them from running for president and parliament.

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