Education Minister Armen Ashotian said on Thursday that he has ordered disciplinary action against a school principal in a small Armenian town who apparently told students to attend an election campaign rally held by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Ashotian based the decision on a January 23 video report by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Sarkisian’s campaign trip to Agarak, a town on the Iranian border.
The report showed a large number of schoolteachers and students greeting the incumbent president along with hundreds of other local residents. “They are not taking part in the election campaign,” Agarak’s Mayor Mkhitar Zakarian assured an RFE/RL correspondent.
“The school staff and students are simply using a long pause [between classes] in order to not miss the opportunity to see our president with their own eyes,” claimed Zakarian.
Writing on Facebook, Ashotian said he has sent a letter to Governor Surik Khachatrian of Syunik province encompassing Agarak asking him to take disciplinary action against the local school principal. He said the presence of students and their teachers at the rally “disrupted the education process.”
Schoolteachers and teenage students were routinely present at nationwide rallies held by Sarkisian and his Republican Party in the run-up to Armenia’s last presidential election as well as the May 2012 parliamentary elections. Media reports said that they were forced to attend such gatherings.
Some of the opposition candidates in Armenia’s current presidential race have already alleged that the authorities are again pressuring schoolteachers and other public sector employees to promise to vote for Sarkisian. The authorities deny this.