In April of 1995 devotees were attacked by
Armenian Police. These are the reports that came out from
around that time.
Persecution of Hare Krishna Members in Armenia
The following is a report prepared by ISKCON Communications Europe on the
persecution of Hare Krishna members in Armenia. This case has been taken
up by Amnesty International and a report on the following events has been
prepared by the US embassy in Yerevan, which was included in the US
Department of State's 1995 Human Rights Report on Armenia. The Swedish
Foreign Office also included this case in their 1995 report. The case
has also been reported to the Office for International Human Rights of the
CSCE. A letter writing campaign directed at the President of Armenia was
begun in September of this year and demonstrations have taken place at
various Armenian embassies around the world.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON or the Hare
Krishna Movement) was introduced to Armenia in 1981. Within a few years a
group of some thirty to forty followers formed an association for the
practice of their religion in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan.
During the Soviet regime in Armenia, members of ISKCON lived under the
constant supervision of the KGB, in hiding, on the run and later in
prison and mental institutions.
In 1985 and in 1986 the KGB orchestrated two court cases against members
of the society. As a result of these two cases eleven Hare Krishnas' were
imprisoned in State prisons, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals. Among
them were Karen Saakian, Armen Saakian, Suren Karapetian, Sarkis
Ogandzhanian, Gagik Buniatian, Agvan Arytyunian, Armine Hrtian, Ara
Akopian and Armen Sarkisian.
One of those imprisoned that time, Sarkis Ogandzhanian (23 yrs. of age),
died on December 27th. 1987, from tuberculosis and malnutrition in labour
camp YU-25/"B" situated in the Orenburg Territory of the Russian
Republic. He had entered the camp as a perfectly healthy young man and he
was due to have been released in January 1988.
Another member, Martik Zhamkochian (25 yrs. of age), died in a psychiatric
hospital in the Sovetashen District of Yerevan in July 1986. In the
psychiatric hospital he was force-fed with raw eggs, which were
administered through a tube and he was simultaneously injected with large
doses of psycho-pharmacological drugs. After several days of such
"treatment" he died.
In 1985, in Sweden the Committee to Free Soviet Hare Krishnas was formed.
The Committee publicised the violations against civil, religious and human
rights surrounding the persecution of the Soviet Hare Krishnas. Many human
rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch,
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and The Committee for
Human Rights in Eastern Europe took part in the campaign to free the
Soviet Hare Krishnas. Due to the efforts of the Committee and world-wide
support for the campaign most of the Hare Krishna members imprisoned were
released between 1987-1988.
In 1989-90 the proposed transition to a more democratic society promised
hope for religious freedom. In 1990 ISKCON was, for the first time,
officially registered as a religion in Armenia. There are now about 250
ISKCON members resident in Armenia and ISKCON maintains congregations in
the towns of Gyumri, Kirovakan, Eghnadzor, Kapan and Ashtarak.
Even before the official registration, ISKCON had started various
religious and humanitarian programmes which included Hare Krishna Food for
Life, a food distribution programme for the needy. In December 1988, three
days after a devastating earthquake in Leninakan (now Gyumri) a group of
thirty Hare Krishna members (both from Russia and Armenia) went to
Leninakan and started free food distribution. The money for the programme
was collected internationally. For about five months 1000 free meals were
distributed daily to the victims of the earthquake.
Unfortunately the promise of religious tolerance was short-lived. Despite
attempts by ISKCON members to make a positive social contribution and to
live in peaceful co-existence with other religious communities; our
members in Armenia have noted an increase in animosity towards them which
seemed to parallel an increase of nationalism and a revival of traditional
religion. ISKCON's charitable activities have recently been prohibited by
a direct order from Mr. Khachik Stamboltsian, chairman of the Supreme
Council Commission on Refugees and Emergencies.
In spite of the restrictions on ISKCON's free food distribution programme,
ISKCON members continue to distribute 1,000 free meals each day in
Armenia, especially in hospitals and among refugees.
On the 18th. April, 1995 at 3pm (local time) twenty or twenty-five unknown
men stormed into the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) temple in Yerevan.
At the time of the attack seventeen people were present in the temple.
(eleven males, four females and three children). The thugs were armed with
automatic weapons, submachine guns, guns, metal rods and metal chains.
They arrived at the temple in three cars with no registration plates.
The intruders immediately started to severely beat all the people present,
kicking them and hitting them with metal rods. After a short time the
ladies and children were thrown out of the house but the male members
continued to be beaten. Amongst those singled out for a more vicious
assault were one invalid and a Russian national.
As these assaults were taking place other members of this group were
destroying the temple. They desecrated and destroyed the altar, the
paraphernalia for worship, scriptures, paintings etc. All the windows and
household fixtures were also damaged.
The raid lasted about forty-five minutes and before they left the
intruders stole everything of value that they could find. Three thousand
US dollars in cash was stolen as were telephones, the fax machine, a
computer, printer, modem, a video-camera, two video recorders, foodstuff,
a small marble table and even pots from the kitchen. They robbed
individuals' passports, wristwatches and even whatever small change they
found in the pockets of their victims. They also tried to steal a car
outside the temple but failing to do so they siphoned the petrol from it
The police were alerted several times by various people but, although they
said that they would come no one arrived. In an effort to appeal for help
one Hare Krishna member, covered in blood, went to the police station, but
his petitions were ignored, except for one policeman who commented that
this happened because the Hare Krishna members were deviating from the
Shortly after this incident a well-dressed man walked into the temple and
announced that this attack happened because the Hare Krishna followers did
not adhere to the national Church. He then left in a Russian made Volga
car without registration plates.
Most of the people beaten were severely injured and had to receive
hospital treatment. All of the male members sustained head injuries.
Recent problems in Armenia
Below we chronologically document the more recent development of
systematic harassment of Hare Krishna members, by priests of the majority
Armenian Apostolic church, police and local government officials.
July 10th., 1992 the Hare Krishna temple in Yerevan was attacked by
arsonists. Temple members managed to extinguish the fire which damaged the
temple building and two cars owned by ISKCON. ISKCON appealed to the
Commission for Human Rights of the Supreme Council of Armenia and local
police, but the complaint was ignored.
In June 1993 a few members of the Society went to the Republic of Ngorno
Karabakh to open a free food distribution centre for local people. On June
12th. ISKCON members and Mr. L. Gulian, the Head of the Department of
Refugees and Humanitarian Aid reached an agreement to co-operate together
in order to help the region's under-privileged. Mr. Gulian promised to
provide ISKCON with premises for their free food distribution in
Stepanakert city and other settlements in the R.N.K. In Stepanakert
ISKCON was granted facility to distribute free food on the premises of a
former restaurant. Within a month of the programme starting, a group of
armed men broke into the premises and demanded, on behalf of the
government, that our members leave the country within 24 hours. ISKCON's
members appealed to the State Minister Zirair Pogosian, who refused to
help and actually declared support for the demands of the intruders.
On September 23 1993, Mikhael Unjugulian, a Krishna devotee was severely
beaten before the inhabitants in his village of origin, Oshakan. His
assailant was a priest from the local Armenian Orthodox Church, a Father
Gevork. A vain appeal for justice was made by the victim to the police in
the Ashtrak region. His complaint was ignored. The incident was witnessed
and can be verified by many inhabitants of the village.
In April 1994, thirty tons of religious books were dispatched from ISKCON
in Moscow for the temple in Yerevan. The books were seized by the customs
at Masis station before they reached Yerevan.. Initially the Council for
Religious Affairs instructed the customs station not to release the books
but later claim to have written to ask them to release them. It should be
noted that religious books do not require customs clearance in order to be
imported into Armenia.
After various attempts to secure possession of the confiscated books
ISKCON members heard from reliable political sources that the literature's
had been burned. Further information suggested that the order to burn the
books came from the head of the Armenian KGB, David Shahnazarian. They
were reportedly burnt in the ovens of the thermal power plant in Yerevan,
mixed with liquid fuel. Informants claim that this was done in reply to
the international reaction to the reported persecution of Hare Krishna
members in Armenia.
On the 16th. March, 1995 a committee was formed comprising of the
president of ISKCON in Armenia, a representative of the US Embassy in
Armenia, the head of Customs, the head of the local station police and the
head of the railway station in Masis. This committee proceeded to unlock
the container of books. The container was opened and it was found to be
ISKCON in Armenia has lodged an official complaint regarding this but has
been advised that it may not be wise to pursue the case seriously.
On April 18, 1994 Hare Krishna member Artur Khachatrian was attacked by a
group of fifteen members of the Armenian Army in an Officer's Club in
Yerevan. He was severely beaten and had to be hospitalised. The religious
books he carried with him were burned. The case was reported to the police
station in the Spandarian district of Yerevan. The appointed police
investigator was a Captain Asatrian who decided not to question or arrest
the offenders, although their names are known to the police.
On July 4, 1994 two female members of the Hare Krishna Society in Yerevan,
Anaite Arzumanian and Mariana Dorunz, travelled to the neighbouring town
of Sisyan, to distribute religious literature and minister to local
sympathisers. They were intercepted on route by two priests of the
Armenian Apostolic Church, Father Narek from Sisyan and an American
priest of the Avat Mission (a branch of the Armenian Apostolic church),
Father Zenob. Supported by soldiers of the Armenian army, the priests
confiscated more than 150 books and proceeded to light a bonfire with
them, an act which attracted much local attention. The priests and their
supporters then forcibly ripped the clothing off the women, twisted their
arms, tore their religious beads off their necks and threw these articles
into the bonfire. This scene was witnessed by many of the local people.
This incident was reported to Mr. Robert Patterson of the American
embassy in Armenia, and to the special correspondent of Espress-chronika
in Armenia, Michail Dabasian.
Krishna devotees appealed for justice in these cases to the Armenian
Prosecutor and the Committee for Human Rights at the Armenian Supreme
Soviet. The only response came from an investigator, Mr Kroian, which
consisted only of a threatening commitment to investigate all Hare
Krishna activities in Armenia.
On July 26, 1994 another ISKCON member Karo Mkrtchian was seriously beaten
and threatened with murder by six members of the Dashnaktzusyun Party (a
nationalist political party). Again any religious books or paraphernalia
he carried were confiscated. He was also told that if he was seen again in
the city after twenty four hours, he would be killed on the spot.
On July 31, 1994 in the town of Goris a live phone-in interview with the
Patriarch of the South Armenian region, Bishop Abraham was broadcast on
the local state cable television. During the interview a question was
raised about the status of ISKCON. The bishop replied that it was all the
work of Satan and that the books sold by ISKCON represent a real social
danger, diverting people from the path of God. He claimed to have formed a
committee, in the local Cultural House for Youth with the aim of
collecting all the ISKCON books from the population in exchange for free
Bibles (this facility was also announced on local radio). He promised to
burn publicly the collected literature.
On August 28th. ten armed thugs stormed the Hare Krishna Temple in
Yerevan. They completely vandalised the place of worship, desecrated the
altar, and severely assaulted the temple President, Ivan Dallakian. The
attack lasted more than twenty minutes. During the attack ISKCON members
tried to report the attack to the police who only sent a police patrol to
the scene after four attempts at trying to contact them. The police car
only stayed long enough for the police officer to declare, "We are not
going to protect people like you." After the incident, Ivan Dallakian
himself called the police and asked for protection. He gave the police
the names and addresses of the people who attacked the temple; but again,
there was no sign of response from the police.
On the morning of August 31st, the same people phoned and warned that they
would come again at 19.00 hours. Temple members called the police at 17.00
hours and requested protection. A police patrol arrived after a short time
and stayed only fifteen minutes, explaining that they had no time to wait.
At the appointed time four people arrived at the temple. They started to
abuse the temple residents and threatened violence. Before long a
scuffle ensued and suddenly, after just a few moments, a fleet of fourteen
police cars appeared on the scene. The policemen surrounded the temple
and arrested all the residents. Seventeen Hare Krishna members were taken
into custody. In the police station the prisoners were abused and beaten.
Subsequently sixteen of those arrested have been freed from the state
prison. They were, nonetheless, forced to stay under house arrest for an
unspecified investigation period. After a period of two months the charges
As a result of the attack on the temple one Hare Krishna member, Boris
Agagabian, was hospitalised with head injuries and a severely damaged
nose. Another member, Mkrtchian Karo has suffered severe head injuries,
inflicted by a metal bar. Others also had to receive hospital treatment.
On the 3rd. September a member called Grigorian Kamo was arrested by the
local police and taken into custody. During the night he was badly beaten
in his cell by the same policemen who had beaten the others on the 31st.
On the 6th. September Grigorian Kamo was transferred to a psychiatric
prison hospital. He has since been released.
A mass media campaign was orchestrated against ISKCON in the last six
months of 1994. The reportage was sensationalistic and sectarian. When Ara
Akopian (an ISKCON member) recently asked Voskan Maminonian, a
correspondent from the Erkir newspaper, why he published blatant lies
about ISKCON, the correspondent replied, "When a war is being fought
against a political enemy, then all means are to be used, both honest and
Update: March 1995
After various attempts to secure possession of the confiscated books
ISKCON members heard from reliable political sources that the
literatures had been burned. Further information suggested that
the order to burn the books came from the head of the Armenian
KGB, David Shahnazarian. They were reportedly burnt in the ovens
of the Thermal power plant in Yerevan, mixed with liquid fuel.
Informants claim that this was done in reply to the international
reaction to the reported persecution of Hare Krishna members in
On the 16th. March 1995 a committee was formed comprising of the
president of ISKCON in Armenia, a representative of the US Embassy
in Armenia, the head of Customs, the head of the local station
police and the head of the railway station where the books were
held. This committee proceeded to unlock the container of books.
The container was opened and it was found to be empty. ISKCON in
Armenia has lodged an official complaint regarding this but has
been advised that it may not be wise to pursue the case seriously.
Here are some other pages that deal with this situation:
ISKCON World Review Article
Will Chaotic Armenian Disaster Zone Lose Hare Krishna Food for Life?
Religious Persecution in Armenia
Armenia: Comments on the Initial Report Submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee