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Yerevan School Teachers Protest Principal’s Sacking


Armenia -- Teachers of the Nubarashen boarding school in Yerevan protest its principal's dismissal, 3June 2010.

Armenia -- Teachers of the Nubarashen boarding school in Yerevan protest its principal's dismissal, 3June 2010.

About two dozen teachers of a Yerevan boarding school rocked by a sex abuse scandal rallied on Thursday to protest against the sacking of its principal by Education Minister Armen Ashotian.


Some of them also questioned a two-year prison sentence that was given to Levon Avagian, one of their colleagues accused of sexually and physically abusing female students.

Ashotian fired the principal, Meruzhan Yengibarian, on Monday, one week after a guilty verdict handed down by a Yerevan court in Avagian’s high-profile trial. The Education Ministry said Yengibarian bears responsibility for “violent obscene acts” committed in the school for children with special needs, even if he was not aware of them.

His employees, who gathered outside the United Nations office in Yerevan, rejected this explanation. “Avagian was sent to our school by the Education Ministry as a good pedagogue,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “How could [Yengibarian] have been 100 percent certain about his integrity. What is he responsible for?”

Other teachers claimed that Avagian, who pleaded guilty to the accusation in the court, may be innocent. “Maybe that he was forced to admit to the charges,” one of them said.

The protesters, among them Yengibarian’s daughter Anna, who works as a psychologist in the same school, vented their anger on about a dozen young people who worked as volunteers at the institution located in Yerevan’s Nubarashen suburb in April-June 2008 as part of a UN project to boost educational standards in Armenia.

In their subsequent public pronouncements, the volunteers accused the school administration of failing to ensure the minimal standards of teaching and hygiene and routinely ill-treating and poorly feeding students. They also cited some schoolgirls as alleging sexual harassment at the hands of Avagian. One of the activists, Mariam Sukhudian, helped to further publicize those allegations and was nearly prosecuted for that last year.

“There have been numerous inspections in the school in the past two years and they proved that there are no such problems,” the acting principal, Donara Hovannisian, told RFE/RL. “I think it’s about time they left the teaching staff alone.”

“They have destroyed our school by making false claims and discrediting people,” said one of her employees. “As if that was not enough, they are now playing with our honest principal’s reputation. We feel offended and humiliated.”

Armenia -- Mariam Sukhudian, a prominent environmenalist and civic activist, undated.
“There is no other person as just, dedicated and sincere as our principal,” declared another.

Sukhudian scoffed at the protest, saying that its participants simply fear losing their jobs. “This is the natural reaction of [Yengibarian’s] clan,” she told RFE/RL. “Clearly, they are terrified as more and more things are being uncovered.”

“If they don’t agree with the verdict against Avagian, let them appeal it,” said Sukhudian. “If they disagree with the principal’s sacking, let them protest outside the Education Ministry.”

The 30-year-old activist of the environment protection group SOS Teghut also stood by her and the other volunteers’ allegations, saying they are trusted by “the entire sound public.” She said they and their supporters will continue to “fight to sort out that rotten system.”
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