By Anush Dashtents
The Armenian ministry of education has ordered all secondary schools to post the portraits of President Robert Kocharian along with other “state symbols” during the new academic year, officials announced on Monday.
Under a directive issued by Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian, Kocharian’s photographs will be placed in special visible areas to be set aside by school administrations. They will also have to put on permanent display Armenia’s national red-blue-orange flags and coats-in-arms as well as the pictures of Catholicos Garegin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Deputy Education Minister Aida Topuzian said the ministry thereby wants to boost civic consciousness and patriotism of more than 530,000 students aged between 6 and 17 years. She denied any political motives behind the move, saying that it has nothing to do with presidential elections scheduled for February.
The ministry’s order means that for the first time since the fall of Communist rule in 1990 Armenian schools have to carry pictures of the country’s leaders. It is not clear whether it was approved by Kocharian beforehand.
Mkrtchian is a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party that supports the president.
The official requirement to post the portraits of Garegin alongside those of the head of state highlights the privileged semi-official status of the Armenian Church. It follows a government decision late last month to introduce the church’s history as a mandatory subject in the curriculum of the 11-year secondary schools.
The announcement of Mkrtchian’s directive to school principals coincided with the start of the 2002-2003 academic year officially celebrated as a Day of Knowledge in Armenia. Some 51,000 children across the country went to school for the first time in their life.
Kocharian sent a congratulatory message to schoolteachers, students and their parents on the occasion.