- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 15, 2003 

Convenience or Conspiracy?: Outlandish claims circulate regarding proposed ID cards

None of the 10-digit cards will end with the number '666'.

When the idea of introducing an identity card in Armenia was raised last year, nobody expected that the suggestion would be controversial.

Many countries, though by no means all, have adopted a form of identification card. The proposal in Armenia, put forward by the Government aims not only to create a more stable framework for state business but to end the misery of people having to visit one office after another, lining up to collect stamps on documents and signatures to prove their place of residence or their right to buy or sell real estate, etc.

Supporters of the ID card say that it will function as a social security card and is intended as a matter of convenience. Last year, a law was passed stipulating that residents should have such cards.

The 10-digit number, representing a person's birth date, sex and a registration code would be issued once in a person's life. It would serve as identification for civil and legal matters, for opening bank accounts, for paying taxes, etc. And, most importantly for reducing the load of paperwork now required, it would be registered in a central computer system available to all agencies.

"Thanks to this system the entire work of both the government and citizens will change to purely peaceful and certain relations," said head of the Nemrut media-analyzing center Andranik Saratikyan last fall. "Today people are facing difficulties, are running from one authorities to the other, are spending hours for having their documents signed meanwhile all that paperwork can be solved simply by one card."

It is planned that all citizens of the Republic of Armenia as well as resident foreigners with businesses connected to Armenia, must have ID cards. The utilization of these cards is intended to start from July 1, 2004, but already 257,000 applications have been submitted - as well as some complaints.

(Click here for an update on Government reaction to complaints.)

"As citizens of RA and believers of Armenian Apostolic Church, we, undersigned, ask you not to force us to get identification numbers as it contradicts our religious beliefs… let us be loyal to our Armenian Christian principles and let us not adopt identification systems. We want to be recognized with our Christian names, the names with which the Lord recognizes us," reads one letter sent to the Ministry of Social Security, bearing several hundred signatures.

In this small country where everybody knows everybody, it seems there are those unwilling to be officially identified. Objections come in different forms. Some, from religious conviction, fear that their names are being replaced by numbers - a veiled fulfillment of apocalyptic prophesy. Others reject the whole idea of being given a number, recalling those given to people sent into exile during Stalin's repression. Then there are those who think that sinister microchips will be implanted under their skin.

"I am not going to replace my name with a number. I was born with a name and I will die with a name," says one elderly silver-haired objector.

Hasmik Khachatryan, head of public relations at the Ministry of Social Security, admits that such views are common and that many worried people visit officials with questions.

"They are not in touch with the situation but they demand that we take their cards back or just refuse to get one. Then when we talk to them it becomes clear that some people scared them with stories about chips being put under their skin, or numbers tattooed on their foreheads, the mark of the Beast and other fantastic nonsense. People who have been living in hard social conditions for many years are amenable to such stories," she said.

Khachatryan believes that more serious reasons lie behind some of the misconceptions.

She says some sectarian religious groups have spread false information through "black PR".

And some, she says, "are followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church and are really concerned about this system. We acknowledge their fears, as it is a matter of freedom of conscience and faith, and in this case we are ready to carry out discussions both with the Church and with those who are concerned over this situation."

The most widespread objection, though, has come from some who have turned the issue of ID cards into a show. Television talk shows, and even some politicians, have used the issue to stir fear among people who have not read the proposals and do not understand them.

"It is just a wonderful theme for discussions and shows. It gives opportunity to present yourself to society and make sensational statements," says Khachatryan. "All of that is made by people who have something to hide and who are not honest in their relations with the government." (For example businessmen who hide their income, people who work but get unemployment subsidy and women who marry but manage to get assistance a s a single parent.)

Khachatryan assures that starting from next summer identification cards will be put into operation and people will see for themselves all the advantages of this system. Till then, however, having a central identification system is a topic for extremist debate and wild speculation.


According to Agnes
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Convenience or Conspiracy?: Outlandish claims circulate regarding proposed ID cards

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The Week in seven days


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Hey Europe and UK! Stop complaining!

While the UK broke temperature records with 38 C (100.4 F), Summer in the City was a hotter tune in Yerevan. The Opera House thermometer registered as high as 48 (118.4).

On August 10, temperatures in high elevations were said to have reached 55 (131). The Ministry of Healthcare advised residents to eat more fruit and easily digestible foods.

By Friday, things had "cooled down" to 30 (86).



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