By Nane Atshemian
Armenia’s controversial Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan caused more bemusement on Wednesday when he complained that a disproportionately large number of Armenians are practicing folk dances as a result of socioeconomic hardship.
“The entire republic is dancing today. Even those who must never dance,” he declared at a meeting with the faculty and students of Yerevan’s State Pedagogical University.
Hoveyan complained in particular that the number of folk dance ensembles in Armenia has mushroomed since independence and now stands at about 600. He suggested that widespread poverty is a key reason for the phenomenon.
The meeting at the university, also attended by Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, was devoted to reform of higher education in Armenia. Both ministers are affiliated with parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party.
One of the questions put to Hoveyan was why the Armenian government does not offer students discounts for visiting public museums. A professor argued that the existing museum entry fees averaging 900 drams ($2) are too prohibitive for young people. The Minister’s answer left the audience amused and at the same time puzzled.
He said, “Recently my 13-year-old daughter went to the Museum of History with a friend only to be told by staff, ‘We won’t let you look at the artifacts. Go and tell your Dad to raise our salaries and we’ll let you in’.”
It was not clear what Hoveyan thinks of Armenian Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian’s plans to rally tens of thousands of people around the country’s highest mountain for a traditional Armenian circle dance. Hovsepian’s Nig-Aparan organization hopes that the event will be registered in the Guinness Book as the biggest dancing performance ever staged in the world.
It was also unclear if Hoveyan’s misgivings about dancing had any connection with his humiliating defeat in a month-long standoff with the teaching staff of Armenia’s main ballet school. They went on strike last September in protest against Hoveyan’s decision to appoint a new director of the school. The government eventually yielded to the pressure.
Hoveyan has been notorious for eccentric remarks ever since being appointed culture minister a year ago. In one of his most bizarre statements, he singled out the ability to organize funeral services among the traits which he believes young Armenians should develop to meet the challenges of adult life.
"Do you know how to turn the coffin?” he asked an RFE/RL reporter last August. “No. You have to learn that. If I fall dead one day, you will have to bury me, right? But how are you going to turn [the coffin]? And who will carry its lid?"
The 50-year-old poet’s latest pronouncements clearly failed to impress at least some Pedagogical University lecturers. As one of them told her students sarcastically after the meeting, “Learn to say silly things, if you want to become a minister.”