NK Armenians face choice of Armenian citizenship or refugee status
Status of Karabakh Armenians in Armenia
The government decision according to which the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are granted temporary protection equal to refugee status is being discussed in Armenia. They are also invited to apply for citizenship of the Republic of Armenia.
Karabakh Armenians cannot understand why they need new passports when they already have the blue passports of Armenian citizens. The government says that residents of the former NKR are not considered citizens of the Republic of Armenia. The passport issued to them at that time is just a “travel document” with which they could travel abroad. Accordingly, the Cabinet considers it necessary to “clarify the status of those displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh”.
International law specialist Ara Khzmalyan considers statements about “travel document” unserious. According to him, all MK residents are citizens of the Republic of Armenia, except for those who have citizenship of another country.
NK Armenians do not have Armenian citizenship
This is the position of the Armenian government. According to Artyom Sujyan, Advisor to the Minister of Justice of Armenia, this is the same position Armenia took before the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that “that the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh were issued with RA passports does not mean that they are considered citizens of Armenia”.
“There was an agreement on the basis of which these passports [with the code “070”] were issued to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh as a travel document, i.e. a document with which it would be possible to leave the country, to travel,” Sujyan said.
Karabakh Armenians are refugees but can obtain an Armenian passport
Karabakh Armenians are faced with the question of whether to remain in refugee status or obtain citizenship of the Republic of Armenia. They are already considered as persons with refugee status in Armenia because they are registered as residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Those who left NK during and after the 44-day war in 2020 are also considered refugees.
To obtain a document confirming this status, they should apply to the Migration Service. Obtaining a certificate is not urgent at the moment. But according to the government’s decision, should they leave the country and return after three months, it will have to be presented together with their existing passport with the code “070”.
If Karabakh Armenians settled in Armenia decide to remain in refugee status, they will lose a number of rights, such as the right to vote and be elected, enter civil service, and form or join parties.
As for obtaining RA citizenship, the law envisages a simplified procedure for them. There will be no requirements for them that are imposed on other applicants. These are three years of permanent residence in the country, knowledge of the Armenian language or familiarity with the Constitution.
“Opportunities to protect the rights of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians will expand”
A day before the government’s decision to grant temporary protection status to Karabakh Armenians, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in parliament that it was being adopted “as a result of discussions with fellow lawyers”.
Justice Minister Grigor Minasyan, presenting the draft to the Cabinet, explained that the status would enable more effective protection of the rights and legitimate interests of Armenians living in NK:
“Those taken under temporary protection become refugees by virtue of the law and enjoy the rights provided for refugees by the law and international conventions, including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.”
People fear “hidden threats”
Margarita Karamyan, a resident of NK and head of the “Return to Dizak” NGO, says that obtaining Armenian citizenship means renouncing one’s former life, even one’s biography:
“By becoming a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, a citizen of Artsakh may lose the ability to appeal to international courts and tribunals and demand compensation for his or her lost home and property. We will also lose our rights to the Republic of Artsakh. And in a few years we will have no opportunity to prove that we lived on the land of our ancestors.”
In the event of receiving refugee status, according to her, former NK residents will still have the opportunity to receive compensation, they will receive the benefits and privileges that refugees are entitled to, but will be deprived of pensions.
Karamyan suggests that this status may contain other, “hidden threats.”
“Won’t it happen that tomorrow the RA government will insist that Azerbaijan guarantees the return of Artsakh Armenians to NK, and all those people who have refugee status must return to Artsakh? In case of the policy of the current RA authorities nothing can be excluded.”
According to Karen Mirzoyan, former foreign minister of the unrecognized NKR, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wants to “destroy the collective image of the people of Artsakh.”
“Having become citizens of the Republic of Armenia, the citizens of Artsakh give up their rights, do not demand return to Artsakh, and the issue of Artsakh becomes solely a territorial issue, although it has never been a territorial issue.”
International law specialist Ara Khzmalyan believes that talk about obtaining citizenship is inappropriate, as everyone who has an RA passport is already an Armenian citizen.
“The so-called status is just a fiction. And, if I understand correctly, it is a consequence of the demand of part of the Artsakh people themselves to grant them a special status,” he told JAMnews.
He does not understand the noisy discussion on this issue and claims that no one can deprive a citizen of citizenship. When asked whether registration at a new address in Armenia can affect the future realization of the rights of those from Nagorno-Karabakh, including the claim for property compensation, the expert said:
“From the point of view of international law, it will not have any impact.”
According to him, only changes in the legislation inside the state and in the social assistance programs implemented by the Armenian government are possible.
Political observer Hakob Badalyan considers refugee status important in the context of protecting the rights of those displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh on international platforms.
“The work on the protection of the rights of these people should be built on all necessary grounds, one of which is probably the refugee status,” he said in a conversation with JAMnews.
The expert believes that the protection of rights is a fundamental and, at the same time a complex, long-term process. Therefore, in his opinion, in parallel with this work it is necessary to create for all Karabakhis “an opportunity to build their lives” in Armenia.
“The problem is what exactly is offered to people. If the offer meets their needs and creates a predictable prospect for them, no one will complain, it is not an end in itself. If problem-solving is effective, grievances will go off the agenda. The problems are not insoluble.”
The expert suggests involving legal, social and other workers for explanations and, if necessary, initiating legislative changes.
Status of Karabakh Armenians in Armenia