The Russian language will not be given an official status in Armenia, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian said on Thursday, responding to a controversial statement made by a senior Russian diplomat.
The Russian ambassador to UNESCO, Eleonora Mitrofanova, declared last week that Russian should have a “special status” in former Soviet republics.
The statement prompted concern from Armenian opposition politicians, intellectuals and media outlets wary of their country’s dealings with Russia. Some of them have speculated that Moscow may put pressure on the Armenian government to amend domestic legislation accordingly.
Armenian has been the country’s sole official language ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union. A law enacted in 1991 also made it the principal language of instruction in public schools.
“Armenian is the official language of the Republic of Armenia,” Mkrtchian said when asked by journalists to comment on Mitrofanova’s remarks. “Our law on the language is one of the fundamental values of our independence and it cannot be changed.”
While ruling out an official status for the Russian language, Mktchian said that good knowledge of it is “necessary” given Armenia’s alliance with Russia and membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. “Russian is certainly the most commonly spoken foreign language in Armenia and we are interested in strengthening that language,” he said.
The minister stressed at the same time the importance of other foreign languages. “There is also another major foreign language: English,” he said. “As an education minister, I am also very, very worried that we are gradually losing our culture of the German language and that there are now only a few schools specializing in the French language.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh insisted on Wednesday that Mitrofanova’s remarks did not apply to Armenia because Russian is a mandatory subject in Armenian public schools where students study it for ten years. “And that is absolutely enough,” he told a news conference.
Kocharian also argued that ethnic Russians make up a tiny proportion of Armenia’s population. “Our biggest ethnic minority is Yazidis, not Russians,” he said.
Armenian officials gave similar assurances in 2014 after Russia’s most famous television journalist backed by the Kremlin called for Russian to be granted an official status in the South Caucasus country. Visiting Yerevan, Dmitry Kiselyov said failure to do so would jeopardize Yerevan’s close security ties to Moscow.
Then Education Minister Armen Ashotian hit out at Kiselyov, saying that the controversial Russian TV anchor behaved “like a bear in a china shop.”