Home > ICJ Home > Issues On-line > ICJ Vol 3, No 1 - June 1995 > Update on the Repression of Religious Freedom in Armenia
 
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Update on the Repression of Religious Freedom in Armenia  

Hare Krsna followers in America have been violently attacked for the third time in six months. The most recent attack, which took place on 18 April, destroyed the temple in Yerevan and left twelve devotees, including a woman and an invalid, requiring hospital treatment. Devotees are now in hiding and in fear of further beatings.

The attack on the Hare Krsna community was the most brutal of a number of assaults involving various minority religious organisations in the last two weeks of April. Marina Kutzian, senior lecturer in Sociology at Yerevan University stated, 'I want to underline that in all these cases one funds the same signature. One or two cars with people in military uniform, at least some of them in that kind of clothing, drive up to a place and attack people. There is no reaction by the police.

In the case of the Hare Krsnas, victims had bloody wounds, the temple was destroyed all property was stolen. From my impression and informal information that I was able to collect, a paramilitary group did this. This paramilitary group was organised in Armenia before our national army was established.

On the one hand it is not official, but on the other hand it is well known that they are supervised by government officials, especially by the Minister of Defence. I have the very strong impression that this group is now used by officials against their ideological opponents.'

The Armenian daily newspaper, Golos Armenyi, wrote on 27 April, 'It seems that in our society there is a group of absolutely defenceless people, who can be constantly beaten and terrorised.' Later in the report it stated, 'In other words, we are dealing with a case of pre-planned and widespread assault (on various religions).'

The Pentecostal, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Baha'i and Charismatic Churches were also harassed. Hallmark features of all these attacks are:

the involvement of the paramilitary forces;
the fact that the police ignore complaints and fail to offer any protection to vulnerable communities;
the neglect of the Armenian Church to offer protection to minority religions and their false accusations which lend sympathy to the motivations of assailants;
the failure of the government to offer any security to minorities or to apprehend or control attackers.

The American embassy in Yerevan have also compiled a background report on the recent attacks.

ISKCON report on the attack

On 18 April 1995 at 3.00 p.m. (local time) twenty to twenty-five unknown men stormed the ISKCON temple in Yerevan.

At the time of the attack, seventeen people were present in the temple (eleven males, four females and three children). The thugs were armed with automatic weapons, sub-machine guns, guns, metal rods and metal chains. They arrived in three cars with no registration plates.

The intruders immediately began to severely beat all the people present, kicking them and hitting them with metal rods. After a short time, the ladies and children were thrown out of the house but the men continued to be beaten. Amongst those singled out for a more vicious assault were an invalid and a Russian national.

As these assaults were taking place, other members of the group were destroying the temple. They desecrated and destroyed the altar, the paraphernalia for worship, scriptures and paintings. All the windows and household fixtures were also damaged.

The raid lasted about forty-five minutes and before they left the intruders stole everything of value that they could find. Three thousand US dollars in cash was stolen, as were telephones, a fax machine, a computer, a printer, modem, a video camera, two video recorders, a small marble table, and even foodstuff and pots from the kitchen.

The police were alerted several times by various people but although they said they would come, no-one arrived. In an effort to appeal for help, one devotee, covered in blood, went to the police station. His petitions were ignored, although one policeman commented that this had happened because the Hare Krsna members were deviating from the national tradition.

Shortly after this incident, a well-dressed man walked into the temple and announced that this attack happened because the Hare Krsna followers did not adhere to the National Church. He then left in a Russian-made Volga car without registration plates.

Most of the people beaten were severely injured and had to receive hospital treatment. All of the male devotees sustained head injuries.

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