YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Yerevan’s new Mayor Karen Karapetian has come under fire from Armenian language campaigners after initiating Russian language courses for his staff that are financed by a Russian state body.
The courses, organized for 26 officials from various divisions of the Yerevan municipality, began on Wednesday following a ceremony attended by Karapetian and Viktor Krivopuskov, a senior diplomat from the Russian Embassy in Armenia.
Krivopuskov also heads the Yerevan office of Rossotrudnichestvo, a state agency promoting Russia’s cultural ties with the rest of the world. Speaking at the ceremony, he said better knowledge of Russian would improve governance in Armenia’s capital.
The official rationale for the courses is not yet known. Karapetian’s spokeswoman, Shushan Sardarian, could not be reached for comment throughout Friday. Nor is it clear yet whether he plans to teach his staff other foreign languages as well.
Karapetian took over as mayor a month ago, having previously managed Armenia’s national gas distribution company. More than 80 percent of the company is owned by Russia’s Gazprom energy giant.
The language courses were condemned on Friday by an Armenian advocacy group that has been vocally campaigning against recently enacted legal amendments allowing for the existence of a limited number of foreign-language schools in Armenia. One of its leaders, Armen Hovannisian, claimed that Karapetian’s initiative is unconstitutional and could prove “destructive” for Armenian culture and national identity.
“We knew that the changes in the laws on the language and education will be followed by such steps,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We warned that an artificial work environment will be created for graduates of foreign-language schools.”
The activist also condemned Krivopuskov’s remarks as “brazen imperialism.” The Russian official denied, however, that the courses financed by Rossotrudnichestvo are aimed at spreading a greater use of the Russian language in Armenia, which has decreased substantially since the Soviet break-up.
“The Russian language is not foreign in Armenia,” Krivopuskov told RFE/RL. “Moreover, it has made an undisputed contribution to the development of the Armenian language and the promotion of Armenian literature and culture in global civilization.”
“The reality is that everything that the world receives today — in the sphere of literature in the first instance — from the Armenian language, it waits until that will be conveyed in Russian, because our school of translation from Armenian into Russia is unrivalled,” he claimed.
Hovannisian attributed the initiative to what he described as Moscow’s attempt’s to “restore the Soviet Union in one way or another.” “But I can’t blame the Russian Federation for that,” he said. “I can only blame our government for not acting like leaders of an independent state and seemingly queuing up to become provincial governors of another country.”