Education Minister Armen Ashotian said on Wednesday that he will order disciplinary action against two more school principals who cancelled classes so that their students attend President Serzh Sarkisian’s campaign rallies.
Ashotian already ordered such action last week against the head of a secondary school in the southeastern Armenian town of Agarak where Sarkisian campaigned late last month. The move followed an RFE/RL report that showed a large number of schoolteachers and students greeting the incumbent president along with hundreds of other local residents.
Ashotian said the governor of the southeastern Syunik province, Surik Khachatrian, informed him on Tuesday that the Agarak school chief has been “strictly reprimanded” for “disrupting the education process.”
The minister announced that he is now seeking similar punishment for the directors of a secondary school and an agricultural college in Masis, a small town just south of Yerevan. Their students were present at a campaign rally held there by Sarkisian earlier this week, a fact document by another RFE/RL report.
“It is essential for our ministry that no political processes take place at the expense of the education process,” Ashotian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Ashotian, who is also a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), stressed that the principals are sanctioned for cancelling classes, rather than sending kids to the rallies. He argued that the presence of schoolchildren at political events is not illegal in itself.
“If somebody doesn’t like the fact that there are more parents with children at Serzh Sarkisian’s rallies than at rallies held by, say, [opposition candidate] Raffi Hovannisian, it’s their problem,” he said.
Ashotian also disagreed with a widely held belief that provincial governors themselves instruct school heads to ensure the presence of their students and staff at Sarkisian rallies.
Schoolteachers and students were routinely present at nationwide rallies held by Sarkisian and his HHK 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.