By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Education and Science Minister Levon Mkrtchian defended on Tuesday his controversial decision requiring Armenian secondary schools to post the portraits of President Robert Kocharian and Catholicos Garegin II along with other “state symbols.” He said the move will strengthen young Armenians’ sense of patriotism and motivation to defend their country against external assault.
“We live in a complicated region and are bound to face lots of difficulties,” Mkrtchian explained in an interview with RFE/RL. “So we need to bring up our kids in a way that will make them real patriots.”
The minister, who is affiliated with the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said it was the state symbols that motivated Armenian fighters to defeat Azerbaijan in the 1991-94 war for Nagorno-Karabakh.
According a directive issued by Mkrtchian last month, Armenian school administrations will have to set aside special areas that will put on permanent display Armenia’s national red-blue-orange flag, coat-in-arms as well as the photographs of Kocharian and Garegin. The education ministry will also hold a contest for the best “corner of state symbols” to be created in school lobbies before the end of this year.
The Armenian constitution lists only the national flag, emblem and anthem as state symbols. It also guarantees the separation of the Armenian church from the state. Kocharian’s office and the Echmiadzin Catholicosate have not yet publicly reacted to Mkrtchian’s decision.
Mkrtchian, meanwhile, sharply dismissed speculation that his directive is part of preparations for next February’s presidential elections in which Kocharian will be a key candidate. He also argued that school principals will be allowed to post the pictures of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and former heads of the Armenian Apostolic Church.