The Armenian government on Thursday hit out at Russia’s most famous television journalist backed by the Kremlin for stating that the Russian language must be granted an official status in Armenia.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian said the Russian state TV anchor Dmitry Kiselyov behaved “like a bear in a china shop” when he met with pro-government lawmakers in Yerevan on Wednesday. Ashotian made clear that Armenian will remain the country’s sole official language.
“Armenia is a unique country in the Eurasian region not least because Russian is not an official language, has no constitutional status in Armenia,” he told reporters. “It has a constitutional status in Belarus and Kazakhstan. We and I personally see no need to give the Russian language a constitutional status in Armenia because Armenia’s population is monoethnic and Armenian is our official language.”
Kiselyov, who also runs a state news agency tasked with presenting Russia in the best possible light, warned that failure to make Russian a commonly spoken language in Armenia would jeopardize Yerevan’s close security ties to Moscow. “The [Armenian] law on the language should be amended in the interests of Armenia’s security,” he told the lawmakers representing President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Vyacheslav Kovalenko, a former Russian ambassador in Yerevan also present at the meeting, echoed Kiselyov’s calls. He declared that Russian must become Armenia’s second official language.
Ashotian, who is also the HHK’s deputy chairman, scoffed at those statements. “Our Russian colleagues, officials visiting Armenia, must talk properly to the Armenian society,” he said. “Otherwise, statements made by our Russian colleagues will create a situation that is best described by the Russian proverb about behaving like a bear in a pottery shop.”
Kiselyov’s remarks also prompted furious reactions from Armenian opposition lawmakers mostly critical of Moscow. They accused the Russian media figure, who was recently blacklisted by the European Union for his aggressively pro-Kremlin stance, of offending Armenia and its people.
“The Armenian Foreign Ministry must consider declaring Dmitry Kiselyov a persona no grata,” one of them, Nikol Pashinian, said on the parliament floor.
Another deputy, Alexander Arzumanian, decried Kiselyov’s “cynical statements that offended the Armenian people and threatened Armenian statehood.” “I want to remind you that the word ‘cynical’ originates from a Greek word meaning ‘doglike,’” he told fellow lawmakers. “In ancient Greece, people who barked at the public like dogs were called cynics. I demand that the Armenian parliament be spared such barking in the future.”
Aghvan Vartanian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), deplored the fact that the meeting with Kiselyov and Kovalenko was held in Russian, with no Armenian translation. He called that a serious violation of the Armenian law on the state language.
The law enacted by Armenia’s first post-Communist government in 1991stipulates that only Armenian can be the principal language of instruction in the country’s schools. The Sarkisian government met with fierce resistance from opposition figures, civil society members and intellectuals in 2010 when it attempted to allow the opening of foreign-language private schools. The outcry forced the government to seriously limit the maximum number of such schools and put linguistic restrictions on their operations.