Ethnic Minorities Win Seats in Armenian Parliament

(RFE/RL)—Four representatives of Armenia’s main ethnic minorities have been elected to the National Assembly under special legal quotas.

Three of them — a Yazidi, a Kurd and an Assyrian — ran for the parliament on the ticket of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The fourth elected deputy, ethnic Russian Tatyana Mikaelian, was nominated by Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance.

One of the amendments to the Armenian constitution enacted in 2015 stipulates that members of ethnic minorities shall be given seats in the National Assembly “in a manner defined by the Electoral Code.” The new code passed last year required Armenian parties and blocs participating in the April 2 parliamentary elections to have ethnic Yazidis, Russians, Assyrians and Kurds among their candidates.

Some Yazidi activists in Yerevan complained about this procedure in an open letter to President Serzh Sarkisian in February. They said that their community, thought to number over 40,000 members, should be allowed to pick a parliament deputy in a separate election.

The newly elected Yazidi lawmaker, Rustam Mahmudian, is a constitutional law expert who has held until now a senior position at Armenia’s Judicial Department monitoring courts. Mahmudian said on Thursday that his election to the parliament on Sunday is a “historic” event for Armenia’s largest ethnic minority.

Mahmudian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that one of his first steps in the new capacity will be to have the Armenian parliament officially recognize the 2014 massacres of Yazidis in northern Iraq by the so-called Islamic States as genocide. “But in general, we will be engaging in legislative work for the sake of our country and all of its citizens and also presenting the interests of ethnic minorities if they require legislative solutions,” he said.

The 3,000-strong Assyrian community will be represented in the legislature by Arsen Mikhaylov, the head of the main community organization called the Atur Union. “Representatives of our communities in Europe came here [ahead of the April 2 elections] to campaign with us,” he said. “They also think it’s very important for us to have a deputy in Armenia’s National Assembly.”

“We have problems and it will be easier for us to solve those problems through the National Assembly,” explained Mikhaylov. “These are mainly educational and cultural issues. We have no political issues in Armenia.”

Both Mikhaylov and Mahmudian said they ran for the parliament as HHK candidates because they think that addressing issues facing their communities will be easier with the help of the ruling party than an opposition group.

According to government estimates, there are 11,000 ethnic Russians and 2,000 Kurds in Armenia.