Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday met with Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization of Armenia protesters who have been staging demonstrations to demand the resignation of Education Minister Arayik Harutyunyan, who has proposed curtail the teaching Armenian language and history in universities across Armenia.
The ARF Youth-organized protests began Wednesday when members and supporters left moving boxed outside of the education ministry offices, to signal that the minister should pack up and go. Simultaneously, faculty and students at the Armenian Language Department of Yerevan State University staged a strike to protest the same issues proposed as reforms to the country’s education establishment.
Protesters continued to gather in front of the government building that houses the education ministry and on Friday were visited by Pashinyan who listened to their concerns.
In crass comments to the press, Harutyunyan on Thursday called the ARF “undisciplined” and “rude,” calling for a change in the party’s leadership. He went further to incite divisions saying the party operated differently that its entity in Armenia. This prompted an even more vocal call for his resignation and various ARF Youth Organization bodies outside of Armenia issued statements in solidarity with their comrades in Armenia.
“How can a person who expresses disagreement be called ‘undisciplined’ in modern Armenia?” Pashinyan wondered out loud to the protesters. “The educational policy in Armenia is not carried out by Arayik Harutyunyan, but by the government,” said Pashinyan.
ARF Youth protest organizer Kristine Vardanyan told the prime minister that, “our problem is that the head of the Ministry of Education does not have an appropriate policy, he avoids talking with those who oppose them.”
The prime minister told the protesters that if such a problem exists, he will look into it and takes steps to “eliminate” the problem.
In an announcement issued on Monday, the ARF Youth of Armenia also pointed to the proposal to not mandate the teaching of the Armenian language and history in universities and cited Harutunyan’s public, often vile, commentary in his defense as reasons for demanding his resignation.
Meanwhile, students of the faculty of Armenian language department at Yerevan State University went on strike in protest Harutunyan’s proposed legislation which cuts Armenian Language, Armenian history and Armenian literature subjects from the mandatory curriculum and makes it optional for students.
“This is simply a warning campaign,” said Gevorg Gyulumyan, a student of the Armenian language department who is also among the organizers of the strike, reported Armenpress. “Let the ministry consider this a warning. I advise the minister to consult with experts before making this kind of decisions.”
Samvel Yeghiazaryan, the President of the Students’ Academic Association of the Faculty of Armenian Philology, said they are initiating a petition to apply to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, President Armen Sarkissian and Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan. “We will attach the signatures to the open letter. Nearly 700 students have joined the petition at this moment,” he told Armenpress, adding that all students of faculty of the Armenian language department were signing the petition.
In response to the striking students and teachers, the education ministry issued a statement saying that each university was free to choose its mandatory curriculum, saying, “wide autonomy is given to universities under this bill to decide the content of educational and academic programs.”
The ministry explained that in the event that the proposed bill is approved, the academic board of each university can decide whether these subjects should become mandatory in all departments.
“Moreover, in order to be accepted to any university in Armenia, Armenian nationals – regardless of selected major – are obliged to pass a single examination of Armenian language,” explained the ministry.
The ministry said the bill not only does not reduce the role of Armenian and Armenian studies, but on the contrary “stipulates the sowing of these important values and training of respective specialists.”