head of the financial subdivision of the Stepanavan
Police Department has been fired because of her
Zemfira Voskanyan, who professes beliefs of Jehovah's
Witness, was dismissed from her position in February.
Voskanyan's dismissal conforms to an order issued
last December by the head of the Republic of Armenia
Police, Hayk Harutyunyan.
According to No. 551-A police department employees
who are members of any religion other than Armenian
Apostolic Church must be identified. And, those
who do not recant their faith are subject to being
According to the order: ". . .unlike Armenian
traditional national Church, new religious movements
and organizations represent corrosive totalitarian
cults or sects. Their activities are directed
against individuals, families as well as society."
Voskanyan, an 18-year employee of the department,
applied to the Court of First Instance of the
Lori Region to have her job restored. Hearings
in her case began April 9.
She began work in the department as a typist,
advancing to the position of head of subdivision,
with an income of 23,000 drams (about $40) a month.
She says it is the only means of supporting her
13-year old son.
Last December Voskanyan, like other employees,
signed a statement signifying that she had read
Order 551-A and understood its conditions.
"Since February 1 I had been on vacation,"
she told the court. "On the 22nd the chief's
driver gave me a call and said that the chief
wanted to see me. On the 24th I went to the department.
I was given an order according to which I was
discharged from work. It was very unexpectedly.
I was asking for the reasons. The chief told me
that the reason was my faith."
Deputy head of the personnel department of the
Lori Regional Police, colonel Arshaluis Budaghyan
gave the order for Voskanyan's dismissal.
Budaghyan characterized Voskanyan as a good employee,
but that her cause of dismissal follows specifications
of the December order.
The police legal department's written decision
to fire Voskanyan says she "is a member of
Jehovah's witnesses' religious and sectarian organization.
After work she participates at the religious lessons."
The statement says Voskanyan's termination follows
Labor Code regulations for dismissing an employee
when a "misfit with the work status is detected."
"Your being Jehovah's Witness and working
in the police is incompatible," stated colonel
Armenian law concerning its law enforcement department
prohibits religious affiliation among its members.
A lawyer representing the court argued that Order
551-A is based on that paragraph of the law. But
judge Harutyunyan dismissed that line of reasoning,
saying it is prohibited to copy that document
American attorney Drew Holyner, representing
Voskanyan, asked whether a policeman taking part
in services of the Armenian Apostolic Church might
not also be considered a member of a religious
"I can't say what it means to be a member
of a religious organization," Budaghyan said.
Then under insistent questions by Holyner added:
"If someone goes, lights a candle and comes
back then I don't regard that person as a member.
It is different to believe in God and it is different
to participate at the meetings. If a person periodically
takes part at the meetings it means that the person
is a member of the organization."
As a result of the attorney's questions colonel
Budaghyan accepted that the law on police employees
doesn't concern Voskanyan as she is not an employee
but a hired civilian.
Holyner argued that the basis of Voskanyan's
dismissal, Order 551-A, is illegal as it contradicts
freedom of conscience as established by the Constitution,
United Nations Human Rights declarations and the
Human Rights Convention of Europe.
"Decision 551-A is closely related to the
discharge. Even if the court restores her rights
for the work, she can be fired again at any second
according to that law," Holyner said.
Voskanyan maintains that she is not a member
of Jehovah's Witness, but that she does profess
"I didn't apprehend that order (551-A) seriously
and didn't think I could be fired, as I know that
according to the paragraph 23 of the Constitution,
anyone has a right for the liberty of conscience,"
Court hearings will resume April 22.