Yerevan: Hundreds of protesters demanding resignation of education minister
Protesters in Yerevan are demanding the resignation of the minister of education, claiming he has ‘neglected’ Armenian national culture, language and tradition.
The youth wing of the Dashnaktsutyun party launched the initiative “Government Session Without Arayik Harutyunyan” on 7 November, demanding the resignation of the minister of education.
On the morning of November 6, students of Yerevan State University joined protesters in an indefinite sit-down strike in front of the ministry building.
Now, hundreds of mostly young people are sitting on the sidewalk in front of the ministry of education in Yerevan, and say they will leave only if he resigns.
Now the group is collecting signatures for a petition demanding the resignation of Arayik Harutyunyan from his post. But the minister does not intend to leave.
The main reason behind the protest is a new bill ‘On higher education and science’, which has been put forward by the ministry of education. It would make the study of Armenian language, literature and history not mandatory for students of the non-humanitarian faculties of the universities.
However, the excitement started even earlier, on November 2, when a street performance paid for by the ministry of education took place on a Yerevan street; the performance was intended to support the idea of providing greater freedom to women in Armenian society. But many in Armenia called it a “Satanic project.”
All the details.
How it all began
It all began after fans of German author Linda Nagy performed the “Excitement and Bell” performance near one of the metro stations in the capital. It was November 2nd. Several passersby angered by the spectacle of this experimental production tried to disrupt the premiere.
First, these spectators entered into a verbal skirmish with the artists, and then one of them ran closer and tried to drench the speakers with green (paint). Dissatisfied with their incomprehensible modern performance on the street, the audience chanted: “Shame!”
Police intervened, and the perpetrators of the disruption were detained. The opponents of the play called its organizers and participants “Satanists.”
The organizers of the show themselves explain that the performance of Linda Nagy is designed to demonstrate the role that society imposes on women. Critics of the street performance called it propaganda of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
Many in the country are seriously opposed to ratification of the convention. Recently, a protest rally was held in Yerevan during a visit of the representatives of the Council of Europe, who arrived to discuss the issue of ratification of this document with the authorities.
Armenia signed it back in January 2018, but still has not ratified it. Opponents of the document consider it to be contrary to national values and traditions, and have even dismissed it as LGBT community ‘propaganda.’
There was an active discussion in the media about the possibility of such a performance on the street and its potential to create conflict. The degree of usefulness of the performance was also discussed, given that the Ministry of Education allocated 2.7 million drams (about 6,000 US dollars) for the event.
Even press conferences were organized with the participation of famous representatives of the intelligentsia.
At one of the press conferences, the director of the Puppet Theater Ruben Babayan stated:
“This story showed that Armenia is indeed a European country, but we are 600 years behind. We’re Europe of the 15th century, when people called everything incomprehensible Satanism, and pundits claimed that the earth was flat.”
Other arguments in favor of the minister’s resignation
Adding fuel to the fire was the scandal surrounding the new ministerial bill “On Higher Education and Science,”which is still under development, but is already being discussed throughout the country.
According to the new bill, the subjects “Armenian language”, “Armenian literature” and “history of Armenia” will no longer be required in departments outside of the humanities.
In protest of the new bill, students and teachers of the philological faculty of Yerevan State University went on strike on November 6th.
The protesters said that if necessary, they are ready to boycott classes for years.
“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 group has another reason for demanding the resignation of the Minister of Education. This story began in July 2018, when the country began to actively discuss the issue of excluding the subject “history of the Armenian church” from the school curriculum.
Then, information appeared in 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.
The fact that the Minister of Education did not abandon this idea, but began discussions with the Supreme Patriarch of Armenia regarding the exclusion of this subject from the list of mandatory subjects, also caused a wave of indignation in society.
As a result, the question reached the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan.
“Given that the history of Armenia is included in the curriculum, teaching the subject “ History of the Armenian Church ” is devoid of logic,” the head of government said on November 4, during a direct inclusion on his Facebook page.
The prime minister explained why he thinks so. According to him, the church played a significant role throughout the country’s history that it cannot be logically separated from the history of the country.
Opinion of protesters
Movement activists from Yerevan State University say that Araik Harutyunyan’s actions show that “he is not qualified to work in this field”.
Activists from the youth wing of the opposition Dashnaktsutyun party are in solidarity with them.
“Maybe he will become a brilliant businessman, and will help reform taxes in this country. But we will not allow the misappropriation of taxes on anti-national projects [we are talking about the “Excitement and the bell” presentation, as well as the exclusion of the Armenian language, literature and history of Armenia from the list of compulsory studies at universities – JAMnews]. There are red lines that cannot be crossed,“said activist.
Protesters announced that the protest would continue until the minister resigned.
Singing patriotic songs, the protestors sat with empty boxes with the inscriptions: “Go home”, “Go with dignity”, “Antinational grants”, “Clothes”.
“These are the boxes in which Araik Harutyunyan should put his things after he resigns,” the activists explained.
What the Minister says
While activists stood outside the government building, claiming that Harutyunyan had “exhausted himself” as minister, he was speaking with reporters. The Minister of Education stated that he would leave only if he himself considered his work insufficiently effective.
Harutyunyan also commented on the Dashnaktsutyun party’s participation in the protest, which under past governments occupied positions in the field of education. He promised “to fill the empty boxes of the protesters with dozens of criminal cases in the field of education.”
Activity on social media
Since the protest’s beginning, Armenian social media users have been divided. Some support the minister, while some demand his resignation.
Here are some of the comments:
“You are a very smart minister! 80% of activists do not normally speak Armenian and do not know the history of Armenia! This is some kind of contract business to spoil the image of the current government! ”
“ You had to resign last year, when you insolently criticized the priest who came to school! You have no place in the field of education! ”
“ Already engaged in self-promotion. He does not understand that the people do not accept him. He is engaged in the promotion of anti-Armenian values, and also removes the history of the church from the school curriculum! The sooner he resigns, the better! ”