In the Republic of Armenia, state secrets are a fetish. According to the legislation, more specifically, according to Article 15 of the RA Law on State and Official Secrets, “Information containing state and official secrets, beginning from the moment of being classified, is preserved as a secret as
(a) information having a secrecy level of ‘special importance’ and ‘top secret’ — up to 30 years. If need be, the Government of the Republic of Armenia may set longer terms than the specified period,
(b) information having a secrecy level of ‘secret’ — up to 10 years.”
As we see, top secret information, which emerged during independence, still remains closed. According to the law, only 30 years after the establishment of the Republic of Armenia, in 2021, will it be possible to talk about declassifying that information.
Whereas the period for keeping documents that simply contain secret information closed from the public is 10 years. The amount of documents with this “secret” seal must be unbelievably large.
Does a practice of declassifying documents exist in Armenia? No, not at all.
State agencies not only do not declare declassified documents and make them available to the public, but also, it seems, do not declassify at all.
In 2011, Freedom of Information Center of Armenia Founder Shushan Doydoyan said at a press conference that only the Ministry of Defense is authorized to declassify a certain number of documents, though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also declassified one.
“Last year, state agencies should’ve declassified documents that were classified up to the year 2000. In this sense, there is a serious problem in our state governance system,” she remarked.
If we look at the monitoring website GiveMeInfo.am, we’ll see that in the questions directed to state agencies in 2016 there likewise isn’t information about documents declassified in 2015.
That is to say, the state declassifies almost nothing.
Besides, the state department carrying out the task of declassifying is obliged to inform the public or journalists of this fact. Information declassified without informing may simply get lost in the archival piles.
In many countries today there exists a separate practice of publicizing the declassifying, when a state agency issues a separate statement, informing about the declassifying of information of public interest.
Furthermore, separate online databases are created, where previously classified documents can be found. For example, the US Central Intelligence Agency has such a section on its website, which, naturally, is regularly updated.
Of course, it can be said that Armenia cannot afford such an open approach since it is in a war situation and such information does not need to be provided to the opponent.
But paramount is that there exists a law. And the law obliges to carry out declassification. The law should not become a lyrical subject of debate — it either operates or it doesn’t. And behind a violation of law there is a person responsible.
Secondly, the Armenian public cannot be convinced that state bodies don’t classify information that should be open.
We cannot be convinced that corrupt bureaucrats don’t hide their crimes, classifying the evidence and keeping it away from the eyes of the public.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.
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