Last Updated 7 October 2021

The Republic of Armenia is a democratic sovereign state in western Asia with a population of approximately 3 million people. The Armenian Apostolic Church is the country’s primary religious establishment with 94% of the population as adherents. In 301CE, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion, upon the conversion of its king.1ttps://;

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

Article 41 of the Armenian Constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to practise, choose, and change religious belief; however, some laws and policies restrict this freedom.2

Article 17 of the Constitution establishes the separation of “religious organizations” and State. The Church is prohibited from participating in the “governing of the State.”3

However, the subsequent article in the Constitution gives official prominence to the Armenian Apostolic Church, stating that, “the Republic of Armenia shall recognize the exceptional mission of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church, as the national church, in the spiritual life of the Armenian people, in the development of its national culture, and in the preservation of its national identity.”

Armenia’s Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (1991) also recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church as the national Church of the Armenian people and “as an important bulwark for the edification of its spiritual life and national preservation,” while also reaffirming Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to freedom of religion or belief. Article 1 of this law guarantees to individuals the right to profess a religion, or none at all, while Article 3 prohibits compelling anyone to participate, or not to participate, in religious activities, including religious education.

The same law regulates religious organizations and the procedure for registration. It defines “religious organizations” using restrictive criteria. For example, in order to register, a religious organization must be “based on historically recognized holy scriptures “and its doctrines must “be part of international contemporary religious ecclesiastical communities.”

The law prohibits forced conversion and proselytisation in general. The prohibition applies to all religious groups, including the Armenian Apostolic Church.4

Religious privileges

The law grants privileges to the Armenian Apostolic Church not available to other religious groups. For example, the Church may have permanent representatives in hospitals, orphanages, boarding schools, military units, and places of detention, while other religious groups may have representatives in these places only upon request.5; Humanist groups are not mentioned in having the right to make any such request.

The special status of the Armenian Apostolic Church is codified in the Law of the Republic of Armenia Regarding the Relationship Between The Republic of Armenia and the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church (2007). This law states, inter alia, that the State should provide financial assistance as part of the State budget towards “the protection and enrichment of cultural institutions which are the property of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church,” and that the income of the Church is exempt from taxation.6

Education and children’s rights

The law mandates that public education be secular. However, courses in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church are part of the public school curriculum and are taught by public school teachers.7 The Church has the right to participate in the development of the syllabus and textbooks for this course and to define the qualifications of its teachers. The Church may also nominate candidates to teach the course. The course on “Armenian Church History” is mandatory; students are not permitted to opt out of the course, and no alternatives are available to students of other religions or no religion. Critics say the law focuses more on inculcating Church doctrine than on teaching the history of the Church.8 Public schools are required to display portraits of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church alongside those of the president.9

In addition, the Church has the legal right to “establish kindergarten (pre-school) institutions, elementary, secondary and high schools, specialty colleges and institutions of higher learning.” The law also grants the Armenian Apostolic Church the right to organize voluntary extracurricular religious classes in state educational institutions. Other religious groups may provide religious instruction to members only in their own facilities.10

Family, community and society

LGBTI+ Rights

LGBTI+ people face discrimination, harassment, and physical violence. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not included in anti-discrimination or hate speech laws, which limits legal recourse for many crimes against LGBTI+ people.

Hate speech and violence against LGBTI+ people, including by public officials, remains a serious issue. According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe 2021 country ranking, Armenia ranks 47th out of 49, in terms of respect for LGBTI+ rights amongst European countries.11

Since the government signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) in 2018, public debate around ratification has been polarised. With many claiming that the Convention aims to promote LGBTI+ “propaganda” and legitimize same-sex marriage (currently illegal).12 Prominent conservative figures, including representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church, have criticized the Convention. The Church issued a statement to urge the government to refrain from ratifying the document, stating that “there are extremely concerning points in the Convention from the perspective of our national-spiritual identity and security” and that (in reference to gender transitioning), “Christian Orthodox understanding of human rights and freedoms rules out the distortion or modification of the Godly created identity of an individual.”13 Armenia has yet to ratify the Convention.14

Access to safe abortion and societal attitude to women

Abortion in Armenia is legal on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and in special circumstances between 12 weeks and 22 weeks. However, there is a three-day mandatory waiting period and counselling prior to abortion services, and healthcare providers are allowed to refuse services on the grounds of religious belief.15 The Sexual Rights Initiative has been observed that, “the 3-days mandatory waiting period and arbitrary conscientious objections by doctors, continue to be major systemic barriers preventing women from accessing abortion services.”16

In response to a very high rate of sex-selective abortions in the country, a law was introduced in 2016 which explicitly banned abortion for reasons of sex-selection. Local Women’s rights activists have protested the law, arguing that curbing abortion is not the anwer and instead of limiting the rights of women the government should deal with the cause: a society and culture in which the female is perceived as inferior and girls are devalued. Womens rights defenders have also warned that instead of curbing the practice, the law in reality just limits access to safe reproductive care and forces women into choosing riskier forms of abortion. There is concern that poorer women from rural areas cannot afford to travel to cities to have safe abortions, thus increasing the rate of unsafe abortion in the country.17;;;

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

There are limits on press freedom. The authorities use informal pressure to maintain control over broadcast outlets, the chief source of news for most Armenians. State-run Armenian Public Television is the only station with nationwide coverage, and the owners of most private channels have close government ties.18

Independent journalism has been subjected to increasing restrictions since September 2020, when the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan began. Under martial law, all public assemblies were banned, and a decree passed in October 2020 banned the publishing of information critical of the government, civil servants and local administrations.19 Whilst restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression under martial law were lifted in December 2020, legislation has since been passed which has significantly increased the fines for defamation and insult in peace-time.20; Civil society organizations have criticized the laws as stifling freedom of expression and independent media organizations’ ability to scrutinize politicians and other powerful public figures.21;

Conscientious objection to military service

Every male citizen in Armenia must complete a compulsory two years of military service before the age of 27.22 Two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights forced a change in the government’s previous policy of penalizing conscientious objectors to military service. The first case, Bayatyan v. Armenia (2011), recognized conscientious objection as a fundamental right. In the second, Adyan and Others v. Armenia (2017), the ECtHR determined that conscientious objectors are entitled to an alternative service that is genuinely civilian in nature and that is not punitive.23


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