Senate for Diaspora?: Bicameral parliament idea sparks debate in Armenia

Senate for Diaspora?: Bicameral parliament idea sparks debate in Armenia

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A recently revealed intention to set up an upper chamber in the Armenian parliament for Diaspora representation has sparked a debate in Armenian society.

During a recent meeting with representatives of the Armenian community in California, Armenia’s Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan spoke of President Serzh Sargsyan’s intention to amend the Constitution and turn the country’s parliament into a bicameral body, thus granting Diaspora compatriots an opportunity to become members of the Upper Chamber and participate in state governance in Armenia.

According to different estimations, Armenia is home to some 3 million people, while the number of Armenians living in the worldwide Diaspora is about 7 million. The Armenian Diaspora was formed in consequence of genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, but it was expanding during the past 90 years. The Diaspora supports Armenia financially, as well as carries out political lobbying. However, institutionally, the Diaspora is not represented in the governance of the Armenian state.

Hakobyan listed the steps that had been taken to strengthen Armenia’s links with the Diaspora. According to her, the first step was the establishment of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in 2008, which worked out a strategy of relations between Armenia and its Diaspora, the second step was the introduction of dual citizenship, and the next will be the creation of the Senate, “as part of which our compatriots in the Diaspora can participate in the formulation of state policy.”

The idea of a Senate for Diaspora compatriots belongs to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, Dashnaktsutyun). Speaking at an event marking the 120th anniversary of the ARF in Toronto, Canada in December last year, ARF Bureau representative Hrant Markarian said: “Let’s extend the National Assembly, adding to it an all-Armenian senate that will include representatives from different parts of the Diaspora. Let them be elected on proportional lists, even participate in discussions and in decision-making.”

It is this traditional Armenian party that has strong positions in the Diaspora that is most of all interested in the presence of such an upper house in the Parliament of Armenia. On the other hand, it would also suit Serzh Sargsyan, who during the election campaign needs to keep ARF, which withdrew from the ruling coalition, from joining its competitors – whether ex-president Robert Kocharyan, the Heritage Party, or marginal People’s Party leader Tigran Karapetyan.

The idea of creating a bicameral parliament is rather abstract, and its implementation is difficult, said lawmaker Larisa Alaverdyan, representing the opposition Heritage Party’s faction in parliament. Alaverdyan said she hadn’t heard about such an initiative even in the parliament lobby before. According to her, it would be more realistic to think about setting up some advisory body similar to the existing Public Council, with Armenians from the Diaspora involved in it. “We stand for an honest and efficient implementation of the Diaspora in the development of Armenia and the Armenian world, rather than a direct effect on domestic legislative processes of the country,” she said.

Head of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs David Harutyunyan, representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, refrained from comment. “This is the first time I hear about such a project. I can speak on the issue only after I review it in detail,” he said.

Commenting on the idea of creating a Senate coordinator of the opposition Armenian National Congress Levon Zurabyan said that such an idea blurs the notion of citizenship, nationality and, thus, the notion of statehood as a whole.

“In the world there are many nations, states with large diasporas, but no such absurdity has been proposed anywhere yet,” Zurabyan said.

In an interview with Regnum News Agency, Heritage’s MP Alaverdyan said that in the modern history of Armenia there was already such an attempt to engage the Armenian Diaspora in the political processes of the country. “During the presidency of Robert Kocharyan there was a similar idea at the Armenia-Diaspora Conferences and its essence was that the president of Armenia should be perceived as the leader of all Armenians.”