By Karine Simonian
School principals in Yerevan on Monday denied forcing teachers and their relatives to vote for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in the upcoming municipal elections after an embarrassing newspaper report implicated one of them in the illegal practice.
Armenian newspaper critical of the government have reported in recent days that the heads of public schools across the capital were instructed by the Yerevan municipality to submit the lists of their employees, their family members and other individuals pledging support for the HHK and its top candidate, the incumbent Mayor Gagik Beglarian.
The opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” gave more weight to the allegations on Saturday, publishing what it presented as a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation between Alvard Arakelian, principal of the Yerevan school No. 60, and one of its correspondents posing as a pollster working for Beglarian. “As a matter of fact, I have collected the names of probably 150 persons going to the elections,” Arakelian boasted, according to the paper. “They’re still signing up.”
Arakelian was quoted as saying that she will submit the computerized list to the Yerevan mayor’s office by Saturday. “You saw what a good job I’m doing; as far as I know, Mr. Beglarian appreciates good work,” she was alleged to say.
Arakelian was unavailable for comment on Monday. But several of her colleagues talked to RFE/RL and denied being ordered to draw up and submit so-called “100 percent lists.” “Why are you taking gossips seriously?” complained Elmira Petrosian, director of the school No. 54.
“There is no such thing in our school,” said Marietta Matghashian of the school No. 8. “There has been no signature collection. I have no not received any instructions to that effect.”
Rimma Bakhshinian, the school No. 82 principal affiliated with the HHK, echoed the denials but indicated that if she receives such an order she will readily execute it. “What’s wrong with that?” she said. “I personally would help Gagik Beglarian. No question about that,” added Bakhshinian.
Karine Avetisian, who runs a state kindergarten in Yerevan and joined the HHK two years ago, likewise made clear that she would do “whatever that is required” to help the party led by President Serzh Sarkisian win a majority in the municipal council and re-install Beglarian as mayor. She claimed to have received no such orders from her superiors yet.
The reported name collection was confirmed by some schoolteachers. Only one of them, Susanna Avetisian of the school No. 172, agreed to go on record, though. “Teachers are forced to write down the names, home addresses and phone numbers of all family members,” she told RFE/RL. “I am the only teacher not assigned to do that … How can they humiliate the nation’s intelligentsia that educates young generations, teaches law in classrooms in such a fashion?”
But the school’s headmaster, Grigor Gyolian, denied that. Gyolian said he will not take any punitive or disciplinary action against Avetisian. “Every person has their opinion,” he said. “How can you infringe on it?”