YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A council of prominent political and public figures advising President Serzh Sarkisian joined opposition critics on Wednesday in rejecting a government bill that would allow the existence of schools in Armenia where the main language of instruction is foreign.
Vazgen Manukian, the chairman of the Public Council, said the presidential body has formally submitted a unanimous and highly negative assessment of the bill to Sarkisian and hopes that it will be withdrawn from the Armenian parliament.
Shortly after coming to power in 1990, Armenia’s first post-Communist government, in which Manukian had served as prime minister, had ensured the supremacy of the Armenian language in the national education system. A law on education adopted at the time stipulates that only members of ethnic minorities and foreign citizens could study in schools where the main subjects are taught in foreign languages.
The Armenian government approved last month a set of draft amendments to the law eliminating the ban. The move sparked a storm of criticism from opposition politicians, media and public figures, including those loyal to the Sarkisian administration. They believe it endangers Armenian’s constitutional status as the country’s sole official language.
According to Manukian, the proposed amendments “do not correspond to our national and state interests.” He said the Armenian Ministry of Science and Education drafted them in response to the Presidential Council’s recent calls for the establishment of independent commissions that would suggest ways of boosting declining educational standards. “We tried to take a step forward but got a step towards an abyss,” he told a news conference.
“During all those centuries when the Armenians had no state … our intellectuals and public were bound together by two ideas: an independent state and the national school,” argued Manukian. “And for our enemies, the first target of their attacks was always the national school.”
The former opposition politician rejected as an “absolute lie” government officials’ claims that foreign-language schools would improve the quality of education in Armenia. The government should “find a different way of solving the problem,” he said.
Manukian further argued that young Armenians already study at least two foreign languages in school and can enroll in American, French and Russian-language universities operating in the country.
The two opposition parties represented in parliament, Heritage and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, have made clear they are against the controversial bill. Some members of the parliament’s pro-government majority have also expressed concern.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian assured critics last week that non-linguistic subjects would be taught in foreign languages only in private schools. The draft amendments are rather ambiguous on that score, however.