Iranian Armenians and Upcoming Elections of the Islamic Consultative Assembly

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fatemeh Safavi
Central Asia Analyst

The Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) is one of the most important political institutions in Iran, which demonstrates beautiful aspects of democracy under the Islamic Republic establishment. This Majlis has seen 10 legislation terms since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Iranians had their first parliamentary experience after the Constitutional Decree was issued. It was then that the National Consultative Assembly was established and as an introductory measure to this, an election law was first formulated. At that time, the most important criterion was financial affluence or, in other words, the election was class-based.

During elections for the second term of the parliament, which were held in the period of the Iranian history that is known as the “Lesser Dictatorship,” the class-based nature of the election waned and religious minorities were allowed to choose their representatives at the parliament; a step which looked democratic on the surface.

The victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was followed by profound social, political and cultural developments as a result of which the political, social, cultural and value system of the society was totally changed. Subsequently, the nature and appearance of the legislative power, in general, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly, in particular, changed as well. The formulation of a new election law was one of those changes. The first election law for the Islamic Consultative Assembly was drawn up by the Islamic Revolution Council, which was among highly important political institutions at that time. The law consisted of eight chapters, which underwent some changes in later terms of the parliament, and one of the most important of those changes was the amendment of the election law.

With the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, religious minorities, including Armenians, were given their own representatives at the parliament. According to Article 64 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Armenians have two representatives at the Islamic Consultative Assembly; one for Armenians inhabiting south of the country and anther one for Armenians in North. Article 13 of the same law has also stipulated their religious freedoms.

According to Article 12 of the Election Law, elections related to Zoroastrian, Jewish, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Armenian religious minorities in northern parts of Iran are centered in Tehran Governorate, while elections for Armenians living in south Iran are centered in Isfahan Governorate and are held by governors and district officials of those regions where the aforesaid minorities live.

Although the election law has stipulated that elections for religious minorities will be held in Tehran and Isfahan constituencies, elections for religious minorities will be also held in any city where the number of voters related to religious minorities would reach a quorum. At present, out of 290 Majlis deputies, five are elected by religious minorities. Zoroastrians and Jews, each have one representative, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have one representatives overall, and Christians living in south and north of Iran, each have one representatives at the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

During previous terms of the parliament and from southern parts of Iran, Armenians were represented by Harach Khachatourian in the first term of the parliament followed by Artavas Baghoumian in the second through fifth terms, Zhorzhik Abramian in the sixth term, and Robert Beglarian in the seventh to ninth terms. From north Iran, Armenians were represented in the first term of the parliament by Hayer Khalatiyan, followed by Vartan Vartanian in the second through fifth terms, Levon Davoudian in the sixth term, Georg Vartan in the seventh term, and Karen Khanlari in the eighth and ninth terms.

It must be noted that 21 people belonging to religious minorities have registered for the 10th term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, including two female nominees. In this way, Iranian Armenians have taken preliminary steps to take part in the forthcoming elections of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and by holding meetings of trustees in Isfahan and south Iran constituencies, they have chosen 30 trusted ones as main members of the executive committee for the elections of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in those constituencies.

It is noteworthy that to hold elections in order to elect representatives of religious minorities, trustees of religious minorities are first chosen. Therefore, the executive committee of elections in Armenian constituencies has the duty to determine the places where elections are held, people who would manage elections in those places, and confirm qualifications of those who have registered for the elections.

Karen Khanlari, the representative of north Iran Armenians, who has registered for another term of the Iranian parliament, emphasized at the election headquarters of Tehran Governor’s Office that although having a specialty and sense of responsibility are both needed for all those who want to be nominated for parliamentary elections, a Majlis deputy “first of all must be a person willing to serve people.” While underlining the rights of religious minorities, he pointed out his responsibility for being accountable as representative of Iranian minorities. This nominee for the 10th Majlis elections also talked about requisites and priorities of the forthcoming parliament, maintaining that a number of bills and motions that were raised during the current term of the parliament must be also discussed in the next term. He added that giving a brief list of weaknesses and strengths of the ninth term of the Majlis was not possible, believing that good laws were approved in this term of the Iranian parliament. When asked about the reason behind his repeated nomination for the Majlis elections, this Majlis deputy said, “My friends asked me to register [for the next elections] and due to a sense of responsibility, I decided to come here [Tehran Governor’s Office] and register [for the elections].”

Religious minorities, including Armenians of Iran, have been actively taking part in all elections and have participated in determining their fate along with their Muslim compatriots and other Iranian ethnic groups and will continue to do this in future.

Five representatives of religious minorities at the Islamic Consultative Assembly are considered as the highest ranking non-Muslim political officials in the Islamic Republic, who in addition to fulfilling their duties as Majlis deputies, can play a role as representatives of their faiths within the Islamic establishment to relay the problems related to religious minorities to state officials and take steps, especially for the amendment of those laws and regulations that are related to religious minorities.

It must be noted that in addition to the fact that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran has considered special measures to ensure the rights of the minorities, Iranian clerics, sources of emulation and state officials have also taken long strides in recent years to improve the quality of life of their compatriots, who follow other religions and faiths. A major example to the point is the fatwa or religious decree issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran about equality of the blood money between people belonging to religious minorities and Muslims, which was a prominent step in its own right.

In addition, the Iranian president has appointed a representative or special assistant to see into the affairs of religious minorities, thus providing them with a more official process to engage in more active interactions with state-run bodies.

Key Words: Iranian Armenians, Upcoming Elections, Islamic Consultative Assembly, Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Religious Minorities, Majlis Deputies, Constitution, Safavi

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*Photo Credit: Tasnim News agency

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