By Anna Saghabalian and Irina Hovannisian
Angry parents of young men admitted to a higher school patronized by the embattled ex-speaker of parliament decided to apply to the Constitutional Court after they learned that their sons would not be given the promised right to determent of military service.
Following a government decision, the European Regional Academy, of which former National Assembly Chairman Artur Baghdasarian is the President of the Board of Trustees, will provide only 10 percent of its 300 or so male students admitted this year with the right to deferment, while the rest will have to be enrolled in the army upon reaching the conscription age.
The students affected by the decision and their parents say they were taken aback by the decision and call it “hooliganism”.
The Academy, which gave deferment from military service to all of its male students following the government’s decision of December 27, 2003, this year was deprived of the right two days before the start of the admission examinations.
The government made a decision on that on July 13 when all entrants had already submitted their applications. The administration of the Academy as well as of the French and Slavonic Universities learned about the decision the day after it was made. And only recently, in the midst of admission examinations, it turned out that the French and Slavonic universities will have 70 and 200 male students with the right of deferment of military service, while the European Academy only 30. These places are to be distributed only in five out of 10 faculties – six places in each, which means that only six out of 30 young men admitted to each faculty will enjoy the right to determent from military service. The right is expected to be given to male students based on their progress in studies.
“What should I answer to my students? We announced conditions for entering our academy four months ago,” Academy Head Sergey Bichakhchian says. “If the government had to set these figures, why didn’t they do that at the time when they allocated the number of places for other state-run higher schools?”
The day after making the decision Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian emphasized its importance in an interview with RFE/RL: “The places of these three universities, unlike the rest of universities in Armenia, were not set by the government. It was a forced step, because as a minister I could not allow admission to be organized without any legal basis.”
The minister, however, failed to give a reasonable explanation as to why the decision was imposed so hastily, at the last moment.
Deputy Education Minister Ara Avetisian gave assurances that the heads of the higher schools had been notified in written form months before. Meanwhile, Bichakhchian denies having received any notification. “We never received a letter of similar contents and no one discussed this matter with us,” he said.
It is a widespread opinion in academic circles that the treatment of these universities is immediately linked with the resignation of Baghdasarian, who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the European and French Universities, and his strained relations with former coalition partners.
Baghdasarian, leader of the Orinats Yerkir party, yet abstains from comments on the situation. His spokesman told RFE/RL that the ex-speaker would express his attitude in the next few days.