BY RAFFI ELLIOTT
From The Armenian Weekly
YEREVAN—Hundreds of protesters led by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) youth wing—the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF)—took to the streets of Yerevan on Wednesday evening to demand the resignation of Armenia’s Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Arayik Harutyunyan. The group disagrees with the Ministry’s implementation of an educational reform package which they argue trivializes traditional Armenian values. Drumbeats echoed throughout the Armenian capital as demonstrators chanted “Arayik resign!” from the Matenadaran all the way to the Ministry of Education building.
“Our fundamental message is that either the administration will demonstrate greater conviction and will to resolve the matter at hand, or the people of Armenia will have no choice but to mobilize from the starting point that the ruling party does not have the strength or will to solve urgent educational problems,” explained AYF member and protester Kristine Vardanyan to reporters moments before the protesters commenced their march.
The AYF says it opposes the demotion of Armenian language and history lessons from the Ministry’s list of required subjects in higher education. AYF member Sevak Nazaryan argues that the AYF’s grievances go far deeper than the change in status of Armenian language lessons at the university level, claiming that the reforms amount to what he calls an “anti-nationalist educational philosophy.” “In all decisions made in regards to our education, culture and science, we must witness the image of our bright future,” said ARF youth member Argishti Gevorkyan. “We do not have a Ministry of Education, Culture and Science with this strategy,” he continued.
The new guidelines, however, still permit individual universities to decide whether to require these courses as part of their individual curriculum. These changes, the Ministry says, are part of a move to provide universities with the necessary flexibility to craft their curricula to better meet the market needs of their prospective students.
Luiza Nazaryan, a student at Yerevan State University who participated in the protest, told the Armenian Weekly that in her view, Minister Harutyunyan’s reforms were not only wrong, but were completely mishandled. Another protester named Harout said he has moved to Armenia with his family from Syria and is worried about the kind of education that his high school-aged children would be getting upon entering university.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Vardanyan explained that her organization has “deemed the current government’s policies over the previous two years to be ‘anti-nationalist.’” She also argued the government is putting the survival of the Armenian State in jeopardy. Gevorkyan echoed her concerns on Wednesday and invoked Armenian history and that of the ARF saying, “We know who we are, where we come from and where we are going. From Hayk Nahabed to Aram Manukian, we have withstood every injustice and have not felt endangered in losing our identity.”
The need for educational reform is widely recognized among the general public, particularly students. The now-governing My Step alliance’s intention to provide universities with more academic freedom to choose courses had been an explicit part of its election platform.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Bright Armenia party took the issue of Minister Harutyunyan’s resignation to the floor of Parliament. A dozen supporters of the opposition party stood outside the gates to the National Assembly holding posters calling for Harutyunyan’s resignation. The parliamentary debate comes days after a member of Harutyunyan’s own governing party, the wrestler-turned-politician Arsen Julfalakyan, resigned his seat over disagreements with the minister. In a press conference held on the same day, Harutyunyan responded that he didn’t feel intimidated by these “loud overtures” and called on leaders of the opposition to refrain from uncivil behavior.