FEBRUARY 5, 2015
One year into its implementation, Armenia’s alternative civilian service program is off to a good start. The first young men to participate in the new program are Jehovah’s Witnesses who work in constructive forms of public service instead of having to serve prison terms as conscientious objectors to military service.
Since 1985 in Armenia, young Witness men who conscientiously objected to military service had no other option than to go to prison. Because there was no legislation that provided for alternative civilian service, more than 450 Witnesses were imprisoned over a 20-year period, often under harsh conditions. This changed in June 2013 when Armenia adopted amendments to its Law on Alternative Service.
It was on October 23, 2013, that the Armenian Republican Committee granted the first applications for alternative civilian service to 57 conscientious objectors to military service, all of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses *. Later, the Republican Committee assigned other Witnesses to the program. Seventy-one young Witness men began their work assignments during the week of January 13, 2014. By the end of 2014, over 126 Witnesses were working in alternative civilian service assignments.
Success of the Program
The success of the alternative civilian service program is evident from the comments of directors, supervisors, and coworkers, who have noted the good work ethic, helpful attitude, and upright behavior of the young Witness men. Several members of the Republican Committee have acknowledged that the Witnesses are providing a valuable service to the Armenian government and are diligently performing their duties.
“You guys are doing a great job for the country on very meager wages. It is obvious that you are hard working.”—Supervisor at the Yerevan/Shengavit Community Services.
“Good for you! You try to live by Christian principles and at the same time try to be useful to society.”—Nurse at an orphanage where Witnesses are assigned as workers.
“Are there any more guys like you? Let them come and work for me!”—Director at the Yerevan/Arabkir Community Services.
The Witnesses enrolled in the alternative civilian service program have also commented positively on it.
“I enjoy the love and respect of my coworkers. Once when I was sick and had to stay home, my coworkers even called me to see how I was doing. I consider it all a blessing, because it allows me to serve God without any stress.”—Gevorg Taziyan, assigned as a Driver’s Assistant at the Territorial Division of the Ministry of Emergency Situations Rescue Services.
“At the workplace, we have a good relationship with the management and the staff. Seeing how they cared about us, we also tried to care for them. There were times when we were assigned work that was not our responsibility, but we cared for those assignments.”—Samvel Abrahamyan, assigned to the Sevan Psychiatric Hospital as a groundskeeper.
“There are 13 of us who started working at the Ministry of Emergency Situations on January 14, 2014. From the beginning until today, we have enjoyed a good and positive relationship with everyone. There are no disagreements with the management. They are impressed by the way we do all the work together.”—Artsrun Khachatryan, assigned to the Ministry of Emergency Situations as a groundskeeper.
A key to the early success of Armenia’s alternative civilian service program is the cooperation of the directors and supervisors administering it along with the positive attitude and good work ethic of the Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia are grateful for the opportunity to serve their country without compromising their religious beliefs or being imprisoned for their conscientious objection to military service.
^ par. 4 For more information, see the article “Armenia Offers Alternative Civilian Service to Conscientious Objectors”