By Astghik Bedevian
The government-driven mass recruitment of secondary school staff by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) is in full swing across Armenia and its southern Armavir region in particular.
The highly controversial process seems to be part of the HHK’s unfolding preparations for next year’s parliamentary elections.
It emerged on Wednesday that the principals and many teachers in at least seven of the ten public schools in the regional capital, also called Armavir, are already affiliated with Armenia’s largest “party of power.” Speaking to RFE/RL, they denied press reports that local authorities have told them to join the HHK or face dismissal.
“I wanted to join the Republican Party because I trust that party,” said Sima Yeghiazarian, director of the small town’s Secondary School No. 1. “I also like the leader of the Republican Party, Prime Minister Markarian.”
Yeghiazrian insisted that she did not force any of her teachers to follow her example. “I will never allow myself to summon a teacher and force her to join the party,” she claimed.
But one of the teachers admitted that the recruitment is less than voluntary. “Her every word is a law here,” said Gayane Manukian. “We love and respect our principal a lot. We do whatever she tells us.”
It was a similar story in the nearby School No. 2. Like Yeghiazarian, its principal Kasia Hovannisian is also a member of the HHK. She made no secret of her intention to promote the party’s nationalist ideology among her students.
Markarian made it clear that this is exactly what he expects the HHK school principals and other teaching personnel to do as he publicly admitted more than 100 recruits into his party on May 2. The Armenian premier expressed hope that they will “instill” in their students the teachings of the HHK’s ideological godfather Garegin Nzhdeh, a hardline military leader of the short-lived independent Armenian republic that existed from 1918-1921.
More importantly, Markarian stated that the school principals and their chronically underpaid employees will also have to help the HHK retain the largest faction in the National Assembly after the 2007 election.
Also targeting the teachers is the ambitious Prosperous Armenia party that was set up recently by Gagik Tsarukian, one of the country’s richest and most powerful men. Most of the school staffs in Tsarukian’s de facto fiefdom north of Yerevan are believed to be already affiliated with Prosperous Armenia. But unlike the Republicans, the tycoon seems to lack the administrative muscle to extend the process to Yerevan and other parts of the country.
According to Anahit Martirosian, the Republican principal of another Armavir school, the mass recruitment of teachers in the area began in the run-up to last November’s constitutional referendum at the orders of the town’s mayor, Ruben Khlghatian. “The entire staff of the local music school were also incorporated into the party,” said Martirosian.
Khlghatian refused to comment on this. “I have nothing to tell you,” he told RFE/RL. But other sources said the entire Armavir municipality staff, including the mayor’s young secretary, has also joined the HHK.
Armenian law explicitly forbids the spread of any partisan or political propaganda inside public schools, universities and other state-run institutions. However, the ban has rarely been enforced in practice, with civil servants and other public sector employees routinely constrained to assist in the pre-election campaigns of pro-government presidential and parliamentary candidates.