Armenia’s education minister Arayik Harutyunyan faced fresh calls for his resignation as the parliamentary opposition Bright Armenian Party was joined on Wednesday by the Prosperous Armenia Party to call for his ouster, saying during his two-and-a-half-year tenure he has failed to carry out major education reforms.
Harutyunyan, whose official title is minister of education, culture and sports and who is a high-ranking member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s My Step bloc, rejected the calls for his resignation and defended his record during a press conference on Wednesday, by not providing details of his ministry’s accomplishments but rather resorting to his usual confrontational tone and becoming defensive.
“I would ask our colleagues not to threaten me with irresponsible statements and resignation demands because I’m not scared of that,” he said at the press conference.
“I was and am one of the leaders of a revolutionary team,” he said. “I took on a mission to reform the sector and am now accomplishing that mission.”
He accused those circles that are demanding his resignation of being opposed to what he called “critical, analytical generation,” which he said his policies aim to produce, adding that the groups that continue the protests will not be supported by Armenia’s civil society.
“These complaints are related to the major reform package that is being implemented. The concern of some political circles is connected with the fact that as a result of these reforms, we will have a generation that will no longer be serve their base and will be critical, analytical. And if the critical, analytical generation analyzes the activities of these circles, it will immediately decide that it will never support these circles in any manner. Groups fighting under various veils, false values will be deprived of any support in society,” Harutyunyan said during Wednesday’s press conference.
At the center of the grievances voiced against the ministry is Harutyunyan’s decision to introduce new guidelines for teaching of Armenian history and literature. The guidelines were imposed over the summer ahead of the start of the new school year on Tuesday, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization of Armenia, which has been on the forefront of the opposition movement to Harutyunyan, staged a demonstration on Wednesday renewing its demands for the minister’s resignation. Late last year and into early this year, the ARF YO staged days-long sit-ins and demonstrations at the government building accusing the minister of undermining the proper teaching of Armenian language and history.
The participants of the ARF Youth Organization demonstration voiced hope that the Armenian government will be reasonable and will take into consideration issue of Harutyunyan’s resignation of during Thursday’s government session.
“We’ll know what steps to take after tomorrow’s government session. We would just like to state that, for us, there are red lines that cannot be crossed, and there is no turning back,” said one demonstrator.
Under the motto of “For National and Progressive Education,” the march kicked off Wednesday from the Matendaran building through the streets of Yerevan to the government building, which houses the Education Ministry offices.
Students and faculty at Yerevan State University also protested Harutyunyan’s policies regarding the teaching of Armenian history and literature at the university level last. On Tuesday, a group of Yerevan State University students submitted a petition to the government signed by more than 5,000 disgruntled students who were protesting new increased fees being imposed by the ministry, which has mandated the remittances and threatened expulsion of students in the event of non-payment.
The Bright Armenia Party, whose members called for Harutyunyan’s resignation last week, plan to introduce a motion in parliament to censure the minister, which if successful would compel Pashinyan to fire him.
In an op-ed published in Asbarez on Tuesday, the founder and CEO of DASARAN, Suren Aloyan explained that Harutyunyan and his ministry have decided to dismantle the innovative platform in favor of building a new one from scratch. The platform being used by schools across Armenia by last count had 1,214,409 registered users and had taken Aloyan and his team more than 10 years to develop and fine-tune, becoming the leading education administration tools used by Armenia’s public schools. Moreover, through the DASARAN platform the digital divide in Armenia was minimized as Aloyan and his team provided students and teachers alike with the necessary tools to advance the system.
The amplified call for Harutyunyan’s resignation come a week after Pashinyan’s My Step bloc parliament member Arsen Julfalakyan’s resignation from the legislature. Julfalakyan, who won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics for Armenia, cited mismanagement by Harutyunyan and his difficult mode of operation as the reason for his decision to leave parliament.