will wish his child to be among criminals? It
hurts us. But we are glad that he has a point
of view for which he was willing to go to jail,"
says Hovhanes, father of Jehovah's Witness Artur
Grigoryan, who is now in Nubarashen's isolation
ward for refusing to go to military service.
Artur, 18, is one of 20 Jehovah's Witnesses in
prison, convicted of avoiding conscription. This
year 42 Jehovah's Witnesses have been sentenced
to imprisonment on the same charge and most have
been set free for good behavior after serving
a third of their sentence. Four more are awaiting
trial. Since 1995 about 130 Jehovah's Witnesses
have been sentenced to imprisonment on the same
"Every person has his or her own way of
educating the conscience, one with the help of
TV, another with the help of literature,"
says Artur Martirosyan, in charge of public relations
for the religious group. "Jehovah's Witnesses
educate their conscience with the help of the
Bible, where Jesus is the law. He never bore arms
and never participated in affairs of state."
(Martirosyan himself spent nine months in prison
in 1999 for refusing military service.)
According to official statistics of the Ministry
of Justice, 90 young men were sentenced on the
charge of avoiding conscription in 2000, 75 in
2001 and 42 during the first six months of 2002.
It is not recorded, however, how many refused
based on religious beliefs.
In Armenia only Jehovah's Witnesses are sentenced
for avoiding military service. Believers of other
religious organizations, especially Seventh Day
Adventists and Pentecostals, agree to serve in
the army but only without carrying arms or swearing
According to data of Jehovah's Witnesses' organization,
32 of their members were convicted in 2000 and
31 last year.
"I was asked why my child didn't serve in
army and went to prison. I said isn't it peace
that you are toasting for most of all? My child
has already laid down the arms," says Hovhanes
Grigoryan. "He was tried for avoiding military
service. In reality he didn't avoid but he refused."
of Artur Grigoryan's family are Jehovah's Witnesses.
His mother, Larisa, tells how the director of
his school didn't let him attend the school -
saying it was not a school for Jehovah's Witnesses
- until he was ordered by the Ministry of Education
to let the boy in.
On May 17 Artur went to the military commissariat
and presented a statement on refusing military
service "because my conscience was educated
in accordance with the principles of the Bible."
In his statement he cited a verse from the New
Testament: "For all they that take up the
sword shall perish with the sword"
It is also written in his statement that he is
ready to implement civil unarmed service.
On September 27 Artur was called to the Prosecutor's
office of the Center Nork-Marrash and was arrested.
On November 1 the Court of First Instance sentenced
him to one year of imprisonment. His father recalls
how judge Edik Avetisyan had said that the child
was a victim of the law.
The Prosecutor's office appealed the lower court's
verdict in the Court of Appeal, maintaining that
the sentence wasn't severe enough and that the
boy did not admit guilt. On November 26 the Court
of Appeal gave Grigoryan an additional 1.5 years.
(The punishment for avoiding military service
is from 1 to 3 years of imprisonment).
"Even criminals don't get such prison terms
as my 18 year old son was sentenced to,"
Another Jehovah's Witness Karen Abajyan had the
same fate. In the beginning he was sentenced to
one year of imprisonment and then the Court of
Appeal made it 2.5. Vahan Bayatyan, sentenced
to one year of imprisonment, is also waiting for
the verdict of the Court of Appeal.
"We are concerned with the fact that prison
terms of those who are sentenced to one year of
imprisonment, is increasing," says Kristin
Martirosyan, who is in charge of human rights
issues of the Yerevan Bureau of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "We
are trying to solve this problem and not to let
their prison terms increase. Our ambassador presents
those facts when he meets with high-ranking officials,
for instance, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs
or Chief Prosecutor Tamazyan and asks them what
are their aims and to what extent do they correspond
to the obligations undertaken for Europe.
"Last year when those who were refusing
military service for the reason of religious convictions
were sentenced for the second time, the bureau
applied to the corresponding bodies and thanks
to our assistance that practice was stopped."
Artur has appealed the verdict, and a court will
hear his case beginning next week.
Yesterday another Jehovah's Witness, Set Poghosyan,
was sentenced to two years by a court in Charentsavan
city. He knew in advance that after the verdict
he would be taken directly to the Nubarashen's
isolation ward. Unlike Artur Grigoryan, Set hadn't
been arrested before the trial, he signed a document
saying that he wouldn't leave the city.
was examined by the medical commission of the
military commissariat and was considered as able-bodied
for military service. He sent by post a statement
to the prosecutor's office and military commissariat
stating that he refuses military service.
"I'm not against the medical examination,
as if there is unarmed service then I must be
considered as able-bodied for that," he says,
"I don't want to go to prison. I would prefer
to be useful for the country. For instance I have
a qualification of computer operator or I can
construct the streets. I'm very healthy and instead
of being in prison for two years I can serve,
do any kind of work that the government will appoint
me to but not as a military man or as punished
one. The Bible, which educated my conscience,
doesn't allow carrying arms and wearing military
uniform. It doesn't allow taking oath telling
that I will dedicate my life to the republic.
I dedicated my life to God."
Set's mother and sister are also Jehovah's Witnesses,
however, his father, who is not Jehovah's Witnesses,
takes his child's decision very hard and encouraged
him to go to the army. Set says that his father
has gotten over his decision and even involuntary
he assisted him by giving $200 for hiring a lawyer.
Jehovah's Witness Anton Tigranyan, from Aragatsotn
region, was arrested yesterday and faces charges
for refusing service.
According to paragraph 47 of the Constitution
of Armenia, every citizen is obliged to participate
in the defense of Armenia by the order assigned
However, on January 25 of 2001 by becoming a
member of the Council of Europe Armenia undertook
an obligation that "during three years it
will adopt the law on unarmed service corresponding
to the European standards and before adopting
that law it is obliged to pardon all those who
are sentenced to imprisonment or sentenced to
the service in disciplinary battalions on the
charge of refusing military service for the reasons
of freedom of conscience by letting them choose
unarmed or alternative civil service (before the
law on alternative service will be in force.)".
In April of 2001 all 35 Jehovah's Witnesses who
were in prisons were set free. However, that act
of the authorities was not a discharge of duties.
Together with other prisoners they were set free
as a result of the amnesty made by authorities
on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity
"The amnesty doesn't mean to release people
from the prisons," says Armen Rustamyan,
deputy head of the delegation of the National
Assembly of Armenia in the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe, "There will be
amnesty and they won't be considered as sentenced
and if they are released what should they do?
The Constitution doesn't make exceptions for anybody.
The release from the prisons must be carried out
in accordance with the law.
"There are three years to create the legislative
field, to change the Constitution and to create
Rustamyan says there is no clear definition yet
of what "alternative service" should
service without carrying arms doesn't contradict
the obligations we undertook. It is written in
the documents of the Council of Europe that alternative
service is either civil or military service without
carrying arms. It is not written there "both
". We must choose one way of the
alternative service from those two. They don't
participate in violence serving in the army without
carrying arms. They say it is not the alternative
service we want. Jehovah's Witnesses must not
impose orders of the country."
The law on alternative service is on the agenda
of the National Assembly. That draft of the law
says that the alternative for the military service
is a military service without carrying arms and
it is only for those whose religious beliefs are
in conflict with service.
Kristin Martirosyan says that according to the
international standards and the requirements of
the Council of Europe, the alternative service
must be civil service. There is no other meaning.
The OSCE accepted not only the right of those
people who refuse any military service for the
reasons of their religious convictions but the
right of those people who refuse for the reason
of any other convictions.
"Armenia undertook that obligation and it
is only a matter of time when it is going to meet
that obligation. During one year Armenia must
adopt the law on the alternative service,"
Martirosyan says. "There are also several
paragraphs in the draft of the law which contradict
We try to show Armenia
those paragraphs so that it could make them correspond
to those standards.
"Representatives of our bureau participated
in several trials where those who refused military
service for the reason of religious convictions,
"When we ask why you try them they answer
that they are guided by the functioning law, despite
they undertook obligations of the Council of Europe.
The fact is that not only are those people not
released but they continue to put people in prison."
From the prison Artur Grigoryan sends his mother
roses made of bread crumb and also he sends letters,
where he asks her to take good care of the livestock.
He has 20 pigs, ducks, turkey, rooster and doves.
Now his younger brother Armen takes care of them.
His father jokes that in reality it is not Artur
who had been sentenced to two and half years imprisonment,
but Armen, who must take care of so many animals.