Representative of the Armenian religious group at the House of Representatives Vartkes Mahdessian will not be raising an issue of right to vote in the parliament so as not to complicate matters regarding the Cyprus problem with the changes to the Constitution that this move would demand, but intends nevertheless to discuss his participation in meetings of the House Defense Committee after the decision for obligatory army service of male members of religious groups.
In an interview with CNA, Mahdessian describes his seat in the parliament as iconic but notes that much progress has been made and expresses hope that over the remaining three years of his term he would manage to meet the aims set out by the religious group.
He adds that a quarterly bulletin is posted to all members of the religious group, containing his activities, and that he operates a well-equipped office with full-time staff, while committees of the religious group have been active in various fields and have produced results.
Asked if the representation of the religious groups in the House of Representatives is satisfactory, Mahdessian notes that ”sometimes I feel our presence is iconic.”
”We participate in the House Education Committee and I must admit that its Chairman, in all meetings, gives us the floor, but we cannot submit draft legislation, we cannot vote in the Committee or the Plenary, and these are disadvantages,” he points out.
Mahdessian wants the criterion for knowledge of the Greek language in order to qualify for a position in the civil service and other sectors to be revised, so that the members of the Armenian religious group are not at a disadvantage compared to the Greek Cypriot applicants.
He also requests the reappointment of the Presidential Commissioner for Religious Groups, who will coordinate and monitor the course of various problems faced by the religious groups, namely the Armenians, Maronites and Latins.
Mahdessian says the decision of the University of Cyprus to enroll students with international exams opens new horizons, adding that Cyprus should learn to behave as a European country.
He furthermore expresses hope that Melkonian, the Armenian school, and the woods around it, with each tree being planted by an orphan whose parents were killed during the Armenian Genocide, will be spared from commercial construction. Mahdessian notes that for the time being the issue is at a standstill, since it is being used to host a state school.
Mahdessian says the Armenians of Cyprus did not have a say in the final decision, since the decision-making center is in New York. However, he managed, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, to register Melkonian as a protected building.
Replying to questions, Mahdessian said a total of 165 children are enrolled at the Nareq junior schools in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca.
Regarding the Armenian monastery in the Turkish occupied areas, Mahdessian notes that it is dilapidated with no immediate prospects of restoration, adding that for the first time since the 1974 Turkish invasion about 250 Armenians were allowed to organize a pilgrimage to the monastery, not without obstacles.
Asked about his relationship with Yerevan, capital of Armenia, Mahdessian says efforts were being made to promote contact with the Armenian Ambassador in Athens, who is however accredited to other countries as well.
”Armenia is a new state and is facing huge problems but we are trying with all our might to further improve the relationship between Cyprus and Armenia, which are friendly,” he points out.
Financial Mirror , 09/07/2008