The new patches of the old world
In the West, the issues of migration xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination are inseparable. To address labor shortages, many countries have been forced to open up their borders to economic migrants. Economic migration created new communities of recent transplants who brought their unique cultures and lifestyles. This mixing of different peoples and cultures often led to increased xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination from host nationals. Whether driven by fear or hostility to “otherness,” intolerance of recent migrants required adjustments in social attitudes and the promotion of policies that encouraged tolerance, understanding and acceptance.
Perceptions of differences between resident ‘old-timers’ and ‘newcomers’ has frequentlyprovided a rich soil for the expansion of intolerance. Issues of intolerance have acquired even sharper edges since the launching of the global fight against terrorism. The social divisions have grown between non-Muslims and Muslims, and even between non-Muslim communities in many parts of the world over the last decade. As a result, the issue of intolerance has taken a more central place on the agendas of both western society and international organizations. During the twentieth century, the West addressed these challenges by trying to reduce racism and discrimination through promotion of tolerance for greater social cohesion, and its remedy remains a valid prescription for the present millennium. However, this remedy has significant challenges. Both racism and acts of discrimination can be defined and legally proscribed. International and domestic procedures and instruments can be developed to reduce both behaviors. But in many ways, the promotion of toleration is more difficult. It is often a generational project with an outcome that is frequently eludes measure. Furthermore, social tolerance might exist only for short periods and may not become more socially sustainable and permanent.
The Armenian rainbow in the 20th century
Armenia has joined all the international conventions regarding elimination of discrimination and it has ratified almost all the relevant major international legal instruments. But Armenian society is largely homogenous and the issue of discrimination has never been discussed seriously. Armenia does have an interest in protecting the rights of its citizens, including Diaspora Armenians who have sought gainful employment abroad. Armenian foreign policy needs to seek reduction of intolerance and discrimination against Armenians abroad and to reduce the potential fears that might lead to “Armenophobia.” However, there should be no clear demarcation between domestic and foreign policies on issues of discrimination, racism or the promotion of tolerance. It is, therefore, vital to develop multiculturalism in Armenia. A multicultural Armenia needs to include the cultures of various minorities in the country and tolerate different norms of foreign cultures as experienced by those members of the Armenian Diaspora.
What may be done…
Armenian society has to reflect critically on issues of intolerance and discrimination against religious minorities, ethnic minorities and other minority factions. Functional mechanisms must be developed for a proper response to practices of and to prevent discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia. Hate crimes are currently being treated under Armenian criminal law, but it is crucial to expand the capacities of law enforcement, the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s Office to better ensure coordination and cooperation of state agencies. It is also important to better govern and accumulate information regarding hate crimes, including the collection of statistical data. Such data will better allow law makers and administrators to analyze trends in discriminatory and racist behaviors, and so develop policies to prevent and persecute such crimes.
Every individual should have the legal opportunity to defend his/her rights in the event of discriminative treatment. Legal assistance from either state agents or from non-governmental organizations can help individuals faced with discrimination. Furthermore, protection must be afforded to the representatives of vulnerable social groups who are often most prone to become victims of discrimination.
State agencies and institutions providing public services have a crucial role in fighting against intolerance, especially Armenia’s educational institutions and the Ombudsman’s office. Armenia’s educational curricula should further promote a culture of tolerance, and develop a greater sense of equality and dignity among students, regardless of their ethnicity, social background and religion. A consultative body could be created adjacent to the Ombudsman’s Office to serve as a quick response mechanism in cases of instances of intolerance demonstrated in society.
The political elite of the country, both in the government and in opposition, should adopt norms that allow them to both criticize and accept criticism without perceiving such critiques as personal attacks or their critics as personal enemies. If there is no threat against general physical safety or the lives of individuals, political criticism should not be deemed an offense subject to criminal punishments but, in most cases, as free political speech. If there is no corpus delicti then political criticism should be tolerated and normalized as part of the democratization process.