15 March 2006

Regulation of the Diocese of Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries

Azad-Hye, Dubai, 14 March 2006: The Diocese of Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries is holding its Diocesan Council meeting from 15-17 March 2006, in Kuwait city, with the participation of the 18 laymen and 3 clerical delegates from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

One of the main topics of the Meeting is the revising of the “Regulation of the Diocese of Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries”, which was signed on 30th April 1994 by Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia (later Karekin I of All Armenians).

Frankly speaking there are lots of gaps in this Regulation. For many years the members of the Diocesan Councils had strived to introduce some amendments, but there was always lack of consistency in these efforts. Few years ago a formal committee was established to examine this matter in depth, but the mission was not completed and no recommendations were put on paper. This year a renewed attempt is on way to cope with the discrepancies of the Regulation and to help exit from the standstill situation. Let us hope that the members convening in Kuwait will have the political will to go through the Regulation and cease considering it as “sacred” and unchangeable.

We will try here to pinpoint to some of the aspects that need revision.

First of all the naming of the Diocese is not clear. Official documents signed by the Catholicosal Vicars based in Kuwait use the header “Diocese of Kuwait and the Arab Gulf Countries”, while the official website of the Catholicosate of Cilicia lists the Diocese as “The Diocese of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates”. We think the best title would be “Diocese of Kuwait and the Gulf Countries” (thus avoiding also the conflict between Arabian and Persian Gulf terms).

Article one says that the Diocese is consisted of sons and daughters (zavagner) of the Armenian church, who live in GCC countries, without elaborating about the nature of the church (Apostolic, Catholic, Evangelical). The word Apostolic exists nowhere in the text. Some people consider this a move to unite the Armenians. Article 52 and 53 say that sons of daughters of the Armenian church have the right to elect and be elected as members of the Diocesan Council. Again there is no indication about the religious denomination of the participants. It is rare to find a regulation where non-orthodox Armenians have this much responsibility in caring for the needs of the orthodox believers?

Article 3 says that the Diocese is organized by a directive issued by the Catholicos of Cilicia, consistent with the traditions of the Armenian Church, the spirit of the National Constitution [of Constantinople 1860], the regulations of the Holy Great See of Cilicia and the provisions of the local governmental laws. As far as the local governmental laws are concerned, up to this point none of these laws that govern the GCC countries have been examined. No one knows how far the Armenian organizational structures are eligible to apply for official recognition and whether they fulfill the prerequisites for that. The study of the legal organizational framework in the host countries is a task never tapped upon.

Article 4 states that each member has the right to participate in the Diocesan expenses according to his or her financial capabilities. This means that if someone is in debt or has very dire economic situation (such as having limited income or several children to care for), should not be asked to contribute to these expenses. In practice this is ignored, especially when it comes to collecting the National Taxation (see below). As a result many members are illegally deprived from their voting rights. In Article 5 we read that one of the duties of the Diocesan bodies is to care for the needs of the poor and deprived people.

Article 4 also says that each member has to perform in good faith the services "that he is asked to do". The indirect verb used in this context leaves some uncertainty about the identity of those who have the right to ask for the mentioned services.

The Diocesan Council has the right to elect a Prelate, the National Council and Religious Council.

Article 11 says that the members of the Tivan (the main positions of each Council) should be elected by secret voting. This main principle has never been respected. The result is that almost all aspects of our community life have been centralized and consequently brought to the verge of stagnation. Secret voting should mean not only the right to vote freely, but also the obligation of not exerting any form of influence on the electors.

Article 16 declares that a meeting of a Council is considered illegal if the number of attendants is less than a plain majority. However such a meeting is considered as "consultative". As you will notice it is strange that an illegal meeting is labeled consultative.

Article 17 pronounces that each Council is obliged to provide complete report to the body that has originally elected it or to the designated superior body. It is a fact that the Diocesan Council is elected by the members of the Diocese (or by the “People” as mentioned in Article 7). It is therefore strange that the Diocesan Council has never given any account to the people or asked the opinion of the “People” about its activities, or even gone through the basic and standard practice of publishing a non-classified report. To make the matters worse the “People” are never informed about the dates that the Diocesan Council is held and are not given the faintest idea about the subjects on the agenda. If this is going to continue in the same way, then Article 7 should be adjusted and the word “People” should be omitted.

Article 20 says that a member of the Diocesan Council or any other Council (such as the National Council) is considered dismissed if his or her action is subject to Article 48 (It is not clear why this reference is made). Article 48, on the other hand, states that a member of the Diocesan Council (the other Councils are not mentioned) is dismissed if he or she is absent without excuse for three consecutive times or departs from the whole region of the Diocese (GCC countries) for a period of one year, even with a valid excuse. What about the case of the members of the other Councils? When they are dismissed or replaced? Practically they are replaced only by the end of the two years period of the Diocesan Council.

Article 24 states that the regulations that specify the legal framework and the field of activities of each Council should be written down in plain words, thus ensuring their smooth flow. In reality, an important Council such as the National Council (which is appointed by the Diocesan Council and has the duty of following the day to day activities of the Community, vested with executive powers) does not keep any such written accord. This creates vague understanding about its duties.

Article 25 mentions that the National Council is one of the official bodies in the structure of the “Diocese of Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries”. The article refers to ONE and SINGLE National Council, but as we know there are three National Councils (Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Northern Emirates). See below for more explanation on this issue.

Article 26 specifically lays a big responsibility on the Prelate, especially in safeguarding the Regulation. Viewing the present condition of the Regulation and the negligence it has suffered for almost one decade, we can easily assume that the ex-Prelates have a share of responsibility in not updating or reviewing it. The present day Catholicosal Vicar would be sharing this responsibility if he continues the same policy.

Article 27 says that the Catholicos presents a list of 3 names to the members of the Diocesan Council from which (and from other names that they may add to the list) they choose the future Prelate. It is not clear though, when this mechanism is triggered. In other words, we do not know whether the members of the Diocese or the Diocesan Council have any role in starting this mechanism.

Article 39 declares that out of 18 laymen consisting the Diocesan Council (besides the 3 clerics), 9 are elected from Kuwait, 5 from the Northern Emirates and 4 from Abu Dhabi. Having in mind that the number of Armenians in Abu Dhabi is only 10% of the overall population of the Diocese, it seems not right to grant about 20% of the seats to Abu Dhabi. If you consider that in the last two years only limited community life has been recorded in Abu Dhabi (with the number of events less than 5, excluding church services), then it becomes clear that there is surplus of Diocesan seats allocated to Abu Dhabi.

Article 42 says that the Diocesan Council elects through secret ballot the members of the National Council (note that it refers again to only ONE council not THREE). Furthermore, it says that one member of the National Council is elected from Abu Dhabi and another from Sharjah-Dubai. It is not clear why Abu Dhabi and Sharjah-Dubai have very limited representation inside this Council, although they consist 40% of the combined population. Furthermore, what is the role of the so called local National Councils? Who elects them and under what mechanism? To add more to the confusion, it is mentioned in the same article that “Abu Dhabi and Sharjah-Dubai National Councils” are elected by the people. We have never witnessed such elections during the past. The idea of democratic elections is highly praised, but Article 7 does not mention anything about the local National Councils or even the concept of any body elected by the “People” except the Diocesan Council. Also Article 25, as seen previously, does not state anything about locally elected National Councils. If the facts of geography are playing a role in this and it becomes important to have local National Councils in each location (with the additional benefit of democratic elections), then why not mention this clearly in the Regulation? This kind of clarification is important, especially that the main functional bodies are those which are working at local or decentralized level.

Article 42, among other details, mentions that the Diocesan Council decides the amount of the National Taxation that should be collected every year (paying the Taxation is the precondition for voting or being elected in the Diocesan elections). It has been customary to decide a fix amount of money as a National Taxation, applicable to everybody without discrimination or consideration of his or her economic situation. Not paying this amount deprives someone from his or her voting power. However it is worth referring here to the Article 4, which clearly says that members of the community should not be asked to contribute to the Diocesan expenses beyond their financial capabilities. We think that the National Taxation falls under this category and should not be levied unconditionally.

The same Article 42 says that the Diocesan Council is responsible for introducing amendments to the Regulation. After more than 10 Diocesan Council meetings with the participation of hundreds of members, many hours of discussion, hundreds of pages and correspondence and after forming a committee to look into the issue, still we do not have any public announcement in this respect.

From Article 45 to 53, the Regulation uses the term “National Councils” instead of “National Council” (see previous comment on this subject).

Article 47 refers to the member of the Diocesan Council as “Representative / Deputy” (in Armenian Yerespokhan), a term that has not been used in other parts of the text. This shows that the Regulation has been originally taken from other sources but without undergoing the necessary adjustments or trimmings.

There are many other items to add on the above. We hope that our Diocesan Council members would concentrate on the vital subject of revising the Regulation. Only within a healthy legal framework our community can thrive.


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