Responding to a continuing public outcry, the Armenian government has further modified a highly controversial bill that would allow the existence of schools where the main language of instruction is not Armenian.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian presented the changes to parliament as it resumed heated debates on the measure amid more street protests staged by its most vocal opponents.
The latest version of the government-drafted amendments to Armenia’s laws on education and the state language stipulates that only two private foreign-language schools teaching above the elementary level can operate in the country. They each can be located only in the resort towns of Dilijan and Jermuk.
The modified bill also allows for up to nine foreign-language high schools elsewhere in Armenia. They can be set up only in accordance with inter-state agreements signed on a case-by-case basis.
The government had already watered down the bill in the face of fierce criticism from not only opposition but some pro-establishment elements. In particular, it added a clause requiring foreign-language institutions to teach one-third of their subjects in Armenian.
The latest changes also failed to satisfy most of the critics, who say they still pose a threat to Armenian’s constitutional status as the country’s sole official language. Parliament deputies from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Zharangutyun party said they will vote against the bill.
They indicated that they will back it if the government renounces any changes in the language law. As Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader, Vahan Dashnaktsutyun, put it, that would “limit the possibility of future dangers” that could emanate from foreign-language education.
“Nobody is against in-depth studies of foreign languages,” said Hovannisian. “We should have worked in that direction.”
The vocal opposition is unlikely to prevent the government from pushing the bill through the National Assembly dominated by members of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party and its two junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia and Orinats Yerkir parties. All three factions said they will back the amendments during the vote scheduled for Thursday.
The bill’s reference to Dilijan came as a further indication that the government bill stems, in large measure, from an educational project devised by Ruben Vartanian, an Armenian-born Russian businessman. Vartanian began building what he hopes will be an international boarding school in the town even before the Armenian government first moved to amend the two laws in early May. President Sarkisian visited the construction site in April.
Speaking in the parliament, Ashotian mentioned the “huge educational complex” planned by Vartanian. He said it will have about 650 students.