Armenian students, teachers protest against bill proposing to do away with courses in Armenian language
In Armenia, students and teachers of the philological faculty of Yerevan State University went on strike in the morning of November 6, coming out against certain points of a proposed bill “On Higher Education and Science,” which is currently under development.
In particular, according to the new bill, teaching subjects “Armenian language”, “Armenian literature” and “history of Armenia” for students of non-humanitarian faculties will cease to be mandatory.
The demonstration of students and Armenian teachers who disagree with this decision has not yet been joined by other faculties of the main university of Armenia. However, already in the afternoon, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Armenia made an official statement, which said:
“After the adoption of the project, the scientific council of any university will have the right to decide that these subjects must be taught at all faculties.”
“The Armenian language is not the property of the ministry”
Participants of the demonstration are also worried that the teaching of “optional” subjects at universities is not at the best level anyway:
“But getting around the problem is not the best way to solve it. We can develop new mechanisms, organize public hearings, and form professional advice. And so it seems that someone had a dream, and in the morning decided to tell it. We are against this, because the subject ‘Armenian language’ is not the property of the minister. He must also reckon with students, professionals. But they were ignored”, said one of the organizers of the demonstration, student Gevorg Gyulumyan.
One of the professors of the Faculty of Armenian Philology of YSU, linguist Vardan Petrosyan called the students’ initiative timely:
“It aims to protect the interests of the Armenian language as the national language.”
Associate Professor of the Department of Armenian Literature Arshaluys Galstyan thinks similarly:
“The academic council of our faculty expressed its negative position regarding the bill. Everyone imagines that this means the loss of our mother tongue for our small nation in the 21st century. ”
Assistant professor of the Armenian language department Narine Dilbaryan says the new bill will worsen the already imperfect knowledge of the language among students of non-humanitarian faculties:
“Doctors speak Russian, IT-specialists speak English. And now they also decided to remove the Armenian language. There is no special literature in Armenian for non-humanitarian faculties. Who will translate it in 10 years?”
Participants in the strike said they were ready to boycott classes for years if necessary.
Education expert Serob Khachatryan has already spoken out against the new bill:
“If many people don’t like the methodology of teaching the subject ‘Armenian language’ in Armenian universities, this does not mean that it should be excluded from the curriculum and the list of compulsory disciplines,” Khachatryan noted.
Armenian philologist Serge Srapionyan described the new bill as a “blow below the belt”:
“These programs have a clear anti-Armenian focus.”
In his opinion, out of 132 deputies of the National Assembly there are not even three who could correctly express their thoughts in Armenian:
“And now they also offer to remove Armenian from the list of compulsory disciplines ?!”
Arpine Piloyan, scientific director of the A. Alikhanian National Scientific Laboratory (Yerevan Institute of Physics), does not agree with these opinions. According to her, specialized training in universities is too overloaded with secondary subjects, and learning the Armenian language would be useful if other teaching methods were used:
“However, the current process of teaching this subject does not add anything to school knowledge. That is, today, the mandatory introduction of the Armenian language in the curriculum simply provides a work load to a certain group of teachers.”
According to Piloyan, students must master the required level of knowledge of the Armenian language before entering a university, and only specialized disciplines must be compulsory in a higher educational institution. Discussions of the new project with the government
The fact that the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Armenia was developing a new bill “On Higher Education and Science” became known on October 22. And the reaction to it was ambiguous not only from experts, but also from members of the government and members of parliament.
In particular, National Assembly deputy from the Prosperous Armenia faction, Iveta Tonoyan, described the new bill as “intolerant”:
“Three disciplines are removed from the program, each of which contains the word ‘Armenian’. I can’t understand what kind of intolerance this is towards Armenian. The goal of this struggle against the Armenian language and history is incomprehensible to me,” the MP stated.
Moreover, Tonoyan turned to the authors of the bill and urged them not to discuss it in the Armenian government.
Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports Araik Harutyunyan explained that there is an intention to stimulate better teaching of the Armenian language, literature and history in high school. The Minister also considers it more expedient to allow the universities to free up the hours they spend on teaching special subjects.
Angela Kzhdryan, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Armenia, stated that the bill has not yet been put up for public discussion. She explained that after discussing the project in specialized institutions, the conclusions and expert opinions received will be summarized, the project will be finalized and only then it will be submitted to the public.
New laws may affect not only universities
Since July 2018, the fate of teaching the subject “History of the Armenian Church” in schools has also been actively discussed in Armenia.
Then, information appeared in the Armenian media that the US ambassador to Armenia allegedly stated that he was concerned about the subject “history of the Armenian church” in school curricula, as well as the pressure exerted on religious minorities in this regard.
Then the Minister of Education said:
“We really get complaints about this subject. But we also have many appeals from citizens who wish to preserve it. We will discuss this issue and make a decision on the appropriateness of all subjects in schools, including the history of the Armenian Church.”
Recently, he again commented on the question of “the appropriateness of the existence of each subject”:
“We periodically meet with the Catholicos of All Armenians and representatives of the church to discuss the issue of the presence of this subject in the school curriculum. Final curricula will be changed starting 2023,” Harutyunyan said.
As a result, this issue reached the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan.
“Given the presence in the curriculum of the course ‘History of Armenia’, teaching the subject ‘History of the Armenian Church’ is devoid of logic,” the head of government said on November 4, during a direct Facebook video feed.
He also added that if the subject “History of the Armenian Church” is included in the course “History of Armenia”, students will only benefit, as a result, the load will decrease.
After all, historically, the church has played a big role in the history of the country, and a separation would be inappropriate.
The subject ‘History of the Armenian Church’ was included in the compulsory school curriculum of grades 4-5 in January 2003, and since 2005 it has become compulsory for students in grades 4-10. In some schools, this subject is taught by clergy, and in others, history teachers.