A gathering of foreign ministers from around the world in Washington this week is a great opportunity to collectively identify effective ways and partnerships for better protection and promotion of the freedom of religion or belief, according to Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan who is attending what is known as the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom organized by the In Defense of Christians.
During the conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on behalf of the United States, and Vice President Mike Pence delivered a keynote address on Thursday.
Mnatsakanyan explained that Armenia has twice participated in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. Department of State. He said that as a strong proponent of universal human rights, Armenia promotes adherence to international human rights conventions and strong commitments to ensuring freedom of religion within the framework of the overall democratization of the society.
The non-violent Velvet revolution that took place in Armenia in last year once again demonstrated the power of tolerance, non-discrimination and respect for human rights and their importance in the Armenian society.
“Religion represents an institution of identity and the protection of the identity. Our history is a telling story about that. Tolerance and respect for all religions is based on our national experience, Christian heritage and long history of living together and sharing with other faiths. Freedom of religion and belief is an absolute human right which cannot be abolished or curtailed under any circumstances including in conflict situations. Protecting religious minorities played a crucial role in establishing modern systems of human rights which clearly established that grave and massive violations of human rights cannot be considered as a domestic affair but should be of legitimate concern of all members of the international community,” said Mnatsakanyan.
He added that protection of religious groups has been well-defined in international agreements such as the Universal Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“Preventing mass atrocities against members of religious groups is an absolute priority for Armenia. We know what it means to be a persecuted religious group within the oppressive framework. It is a duty for us to pledge support to all those who are persecuted, including on the basis of their religion and belief today,” said Mnatsakanyan.
“Armenia became a safe haven for a number of vulnerable religious minorities particularly Yezidis and Assyrians. Today Yezidis are the strongest minority group in Armenia, and we are very proud that the biggest temple of this ancient people very soon will open in their Armenian homeland. Together with the most ancient Christian churches of the world and magnificent Blue Mosque of Yerevan it will symbolize beauty of faith and tolerance,” explained Armenia’s Foreign Minister.
“Unfortunately, we have been witnessing recurrence of mass atrocities including acts of genocide against Yezidis and Christians in the Middle East. These persecutions occur in the name of religion, as religion is often misused and abused by those who perpetrate violence or justify it,” added Mnatsakanyan.
Armenia’s top diplomat explained that attempts to equate victims and perpetrators by referring to their religious differences is misleading for a simple reason: perpetrators unlike the victims do not represent any religion and attempts to justify grave crimes including genocide by summoning religious solidarity or hiding behind religion is an insult to any religion.
“The rehabilitation of persecuted communities, the return and restitution of the places of worship, educational and other property are essential components of protection of the freedom of religion. Today we have received more than 20 thousand refugees from the Middle East and provided assistance to them on the ground,” said Mnatsakanyan.
“Armenia stands ready to cooperate with all interested parties to recover ancestral presence of Christians in the Middle East by rebuilding their lives, communities and churches. The Armenian people historically have been significant contributors to diversity, harmony and prosperity of the countries and societies of the Middle East. This conference provides an excellent platform to initiate partnerships to this end,” added the minister.