By Ruzanna Stepanian
In a further display of his verbal eccentricity, Culture Minster Hovik Hoveyan singled out Wednesday the ability to organize funeral services from the traits which he believes young Armenians should develop to meet the challenges of adult life.
“It occurred to me the other day that I often go to funerals and that the time to have myself buried is approaching. Very soon they too will have to go to funerals and they have to learn [funeral] rites,” Hoveyan told RFE/RL, referring to the Armenian youth. “If you don’t know them how are you going to bury [people]? After all, funeral is a huge institution.”
“Imagine that you go to a funeral tomorrow,” the 49-year old former poet continued, elaborating on his point. “Do you know how to turn the coffin? No. You have to learn that. If I fall dead one day, you will have to bury me, right? But how are you going to turn [the coffin]? And who will carry its lid?”
Hoveyan was speaking in the resort town of Dilijan following an official ceremony to honor some 250 university students who volunteered one month ago to assist in government efforts to preserve endangered forests in the northern Lori region.
The event was also attended by Agriculture Minister David Lokian and Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian. The ministers praised the “useful work” of cleaning the woods and preparing their soil for the planting of trees carried out by the students. Hoveyan was by far the most philosophical of them.
“With such gatherings we learn how to give birth; we are the masters of our cradles, funerals and construction. So you have to gather and see what you should do because you are the ones who will be running this country,” he declared.
That line of reasoning could spark renewed attacks on Hoveyan by the media and prominent intellectuals. Hoveyan, who previously worked as the secretary of the Armenian Writers Union, already found himself at the center of controversy shortly after his appointment in April. It was triggered by his decisions to appoint members of his Orinats Yerkir Party to run several cultural institutions.
Hoveyan also caused an uproar with his recourse to slangy language at a news conference last spring. In particular, he publicly uttered an extremely rude expression to emphasize his indifference to a major sporting competition in Europe. The frivolous conduct drew a stern reprimand from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian at the time.
Ironically, Hoveyan’s appointment was supposed to reverse the damage to Orinats Yerkir’s reputation and credibility caused by Tamara Poghosian, the previous culture minister affiliated with the pro-establishment party led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. Poghosian’s flamboyant statements and alleged incompetence made her the subject of widespread media ridicule throughout her 10-month tenure.
One of the three parties represented in President Robert Kocharian’s coalition government, Orinats Yerkir is often accused of populism and demagoguery. It was forced last June to replace its minister for urban development in the ruling cabinet after a scandal over his son’s reported involvement in a high-profile shootout in downtown Yerevan.
In addition, some Armenian media have been speculating about the imminent dismissal of Sergo Yeritsian, the third Orinats Yerkir minister, for his failure to curb widespread corruption in the education sector. Yeritsian strongly denied the resignation rumors last week.
(Photolur photo: Hovik Hoveyan.)