Controversy After Yerevan Mayor Initiates Russian Language Courses for Staff

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Yerevan’s new Mayor Karen Karapetian has come under fire from Armenian language campaigners after initiating Russian language courses for his staff that are financed by a Russian state body.

The courses, organized for 26 officials from various divisions of the Yerevan municipality, began on Wednesday following a ceremony attended by Karapetian and Viktor Krivopuskov, a senior diplomat from the Russian Embassy in Armenia.

Krivopuskov also heads the Yerevan office of Rossotrudnichestvo, a state agency promoting Russia’s cultural ties with the rest of the world. Speaking at the ceremony, he said better knowledge of Russian would improve governance in Armenia’s capital.

The official rationale for the courses is not yet known. Karapetian’s spokeswoman, Shushan Sardarian, could not be reached for comment throughout Friday. Nor is it clear yet whether he plans to teach his staff other foreign languages as well.

Karapetian took over as mayor a month ago, having previously managed Armenia’s national gas distribution company. More than 80 percent of the company is owned by Russia’s Gazprom energy giant.

The language courses were condemned on Friday by an Armenian advocacy group that has been vocally campaigning against recently enacted legal amendments allowing for the existence of a limited number of foreign-language schools in Armenia. One of its leaders, Armen Hovannisian, claimed that Karapetian’s initiative is unconstitutional and could prove “destructive” for Armenian culture and national identity.

“We knew that the changes in the laws on the language and education will be followed by such steps,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We warned that an artificial work environment will be created for graduates of foreign-language schools.”

The activist also condemned Krivopuskov’s remarks as “brazen imperialism.” The Russian official denied, however, that the courses financed by Rossotrudnichestvo are aimed at spreading a greater use of the Russian language in Armenia, which has decreased substantially since the Soviet break-up.

“The Russian language is not foreign in Armenia,” Krivopuskov told RFE/RL. “Moreover, it has made an undisputed contribution to the development of the Armenian language and the promotion of Armenian literature and culture in global civilization.”

“The reality is that everything that the world receives today — in the sphere of literature in the first instance — from the Armenian language, it waits until that will be conveyed in Russian, because our school of translation from Armenian into Russia is unrivalled,” he claimed.

Hovannisian attributed the initiative to what he described as Moscow’s attempt’s to “restore the Soviet Union in one way or another.” “But I can’t blame the Russian Federation for that,” he said. “I can only blame our government for not acting like leaders of an independent state and seemingly queuing up to become provincial governors of another country.”

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14 Comments

  1. Hye-phenated said:

    I would like to know what other foreign languages does that “activist” speak? Instead of prohibiting Russian courses (and man, they need them!), they should approach other embassies to do the same and pay extra to these bureaucrats that managed to master any. Russian language is essential for Armenian economy – this is how they are going to talk not only to Russians but Ukrainians, Kazakhs and the entire former USSR.

    English could be beneficial too, especially after NATO lifts its economic blockade of Armenia imposed via its member state Turkey.

    • Դրօ said:

      You missed the point. They’re not protesting against teaching the Russian language. There’s nothing wrong with learning another language. In fact, Armenian students already learn 4 languages in Armenia. What they’re protesting against is teaching IN the Russian language because that would indeed be a threat to the Armenian language and identity. The government wants to reopen Russian schools in Armenia, just like in the Soviet days, which resulted in a lot of Armenians in Armenia speaking better Russian than Armenian. There are still remnants of that today but there has been significant progress over the past 20 years in strengthening and fixing the Armenian language. That progress would be undone if the reopening of Russian schools is not stopped.

      • Aram said:

        Hye-phenated agree 100%
        Դրօ … I am sure you speak English better than Armenian … Most of the Armenians Famous people that we are proud of didn’t even spoke Armenian. What about American Armenians, Dashnag Party please worry about these people more.

        • Vacheh said:

          This mayor is the same corrupt mafia-backed agent who a few days ago ordered Yerevan’s police to apprehend the poor street-vendors for the crime of selling fruits and vegetables in order to earn a little money and feed their families. I have lived in Yerevan and I have seen these poor fellow countrymen and countrywomen living in such hard conditions. That goes for the credibility of this bastard mayor.

          Regarding the Russian language, there is no problem in learning a foreign language as long as you don’t classify Armenian language as a second class language or abandon it altogether, as I have seen in so called Russian Loving pro-soviet fanatics. They better open their eyes and see how Armenia is 50 years back in time and its leaders don’t know how to deal with the rest of the world. They should take some lessons from Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, Brazilians, and many other countries who are on a fast track to advance their countries.

          Regarding the Dashnaktsutyun, it has proven to be the only party who still speaks for the interests of our entire nation, advances the aspirations of our nation, and pursues not only the Armenian Cause, but also the issues related to “Azgayin Azadagrakan Baykar”. What do the pro-soviet Russian-loving fanatics do? They can only insult Dashnaktsutyun, get to their needs in front of Russians, and stretch a hand of friendship to Turks in order to advance the interests of the Armenian mafia, which by the way is perhaps tightly connected to Russian mafia. Those people better wake up and realize that Soviet Union is gone for good. There is a more competitive world outside and we have a hard road ahead of us to survive,

        • Դրօ said:

          Aram, what are you talking about? Of course I speak English better, because I live in CANADA, NOT ARMENIA. People IN ARMENIA should speak ARMENIAN as their native language and be educated in ARMENIAN, shouldn’t they? It’s only logical. I don’t care about American Armenians, they live in the US, not Armenia. If you come to the United States of America, you should speak English and your education would be in English, not Spanish or any other language. In Canada, it would be English and/or French. In Syria it would be Arabic, and in Russia it would be Russian. Likewise, if you go to Armenia, you should speak Armenian. If you don’t know the language, then you should learn it (I’m always trying to improve my Armenian). If you’re too lazy to learn it, then don’t live in Armenia.

          You brought up the Dashnaktsoutiun. Do you even know what they stand for? For your information, the Dashnaktsoutiun is vehemently against the reopening of Russian schools in Armenia. Things like this are why the Dashnaktsoutiun was formed in the first place. I suggest you do a little research on what the Dashnaktsakans did during Imperial Russian rule in Armenia, when the tsar decided to confiscate all Armenian churches and schools, convert them to Russian, and forbid Armenian students from being educated in Armenian. Today, Armenia is an independent country, so it’s absolutely shameful that our language is once again being threatened in the one and only country where it shouldn’t be (because it’s not the diaspora, where assimilation would occur). But I guess that doesn’t matter to you, does it?

        • Arman said:

          Aram, I think you should change your name. Your thinking is not Armenian so stay away from our problems. I agree with Dro 100% and would like to add that Armenians are a small nation and any kind of destruction may be final for our nation.

  2. Armanen said:

    As long as the day to day affairs of the city are done in Armenian, it doesn’t really matter what languages the city workers learn to speak.

  3. C said:

    So the controversy is utter bullshit because these courses are patently not `teaching (general subjects) in Russian` but are language courses for adults. Or do some want Armenia to become one of these hysteric Russo-phobe countries like Saakashvili Georgia?

    Around the world, it is recognized that `immersion teaching` or `bilingual teaching` is the best way to teach fluency in foreign languages. While language treated as an adjunct subject results in billions of students world-wide who never achieve fluency in the languages they spent years studying at state expense. The experience of Armenia in USSR is obvious to all. The answer is not turning away from effective means at teaching/learning/communicating with the rest of the world, but broadening Armenia`s connections with MANY countries. If English, French (Persian?) immersion were freely offered they would certainly be popular enough that Russia would not dominate in the way it did during USSR. In such an environment, Russian does not become the `de facto` language of educated people because there is no domination of ONE foreign language, and Armenian remains the common denominator language within Armenia.

    • Arman said:

      No, you are wrong C. These schools are going to teach general subjects in Russian. You are not paying enough attestation to these problem. This is going on more than a year and it is too sad that people still don’t know what is going on.

      • C said:

        What general subjects will be taught to city employees?
        Has (controversy over) Russian language courses for these 26 city employees really been going on for over a year?
        This is courses for professional administrators, not dual-language schools for school children,.
        If somebody can´t distinguish between those, perhaps they really did miss out on some important education at some point.

        I suppose being funded by Russian government is embarassing if Armenian government itself can´t provide world-class education, but this isn´t really at all unusual, French, British, German, Japanese, etc. governments all promote their language abroad,including to other ´rich´ countries who can hypothetically easily afford it. Indonesian government even pays for foreigners from ´rich´ countries to study it´s language and culture. Again, if there are fears of Armenian being subsumed to Russian language again, just diversify. Over the world, the vast majority of students are want to study English as the new lingua franca, yet such hysterics are rarely brought up.

  4. Michael said:

    I live in Armenia and have heard from both sides all their arguments. Both have merits but none are 100% correct in the their claims. I personally see nothing wrong in teaching IN another languages as long as Armenian is seriously taught and not like it was done during the Soviet times. Foreign schools are commonplace in most developed countries. There is no way that Armenian will suffer if 26 City Hall employees improve their Russian or any other language skills. Corruption and graft will destroy “Armenian culture and national identity” and not the better knowledge of a foreign language – never mind that Krivopuskov says that “Russian language is not foreign in Armenia” (such a BS).

    • Arman said:

      26 City Hall employees may improve their Russian as much as they want but not be financed by a Russian state body. Do you people understand what that means? Just imagine US official be financed by a foreign state. He will be thrown to the trash can as soon as he can blink his eyes.
      Michael, you are not hearing one of the sides carefully, they don’t say you should not study foreign language but what the say is DON’T MAKE ARMENIAN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE IN THOSE SCHOOLS. Is this too hard to understand???

  5. Arman said:

    “financed by a Russian state body”
    So foreign countries can finance our officials and we wonder why Armenia is in a condition that it is in now. The sad part is that all the political parties are silent about this.

  6. Avetis said:

    Arman, wake up, open your eyes, take a deep breath and realize that American officials are all paid for by the Chinese and Jews…

    I don’t understand, why does Asbarez regularly display news information (which in actuality is anti-Armenia/anti-Russia propaganda) prepared by Radio CIA?

    Why is it that the Western press always presents anything that’s Russian as something negative? Don’t bother answering, that was just a rhetorical question. Those of us who are not of the sheeple know what is going on. Nevertheless, the most important language in Armenia needs to be Russian. This comment is coming from someone that can’t even put two Russian words together. English is perhaps the most dangerous language in the world. English is the very catalyst upon which the modern world’s new form of Bolshevism – Globilization – spreads its corrosive attributes around the world.

    Long live the centuries old Russian-Armenian friendship and alliance.

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