By Nane Atshemian
Leaders of the youth league of the Republican Party (HHK) publicly castigated their counterparts from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on Friday, in a further sign of mounting tensions between two key members of Armenia’s ruling coalition.
The young Republicans, who control student councils at virtually all state-run universities, rejected Dashnaktsutyun allegations of large-scale corruption in the Armenian system of higher education.
Leaders of Dashnaktsutyun’s Nikol Aghbalian student organization said on Tuesday that an opinion poll which they conducted among over 1,000 students found a widespread perception of corrupt practices affecting their studies. The State Medical University was rated as the most corrupt, with 72 percent of respondents there saying that their professors routinely take bribes to give high marks during admission and other exams.
Nikol Aghbalian said they have also found that virtually no professors and lecturers at the 11 universities have been fired for bribery in recent years.
The accusations prompted an angry rebuttal from representatives of the student councils that are mostly affiliated with the HHK and have close ties with university rectors. Speaking at a news conference, they dismissed the poll conducted by the Dashnak students as fraudulent.
Armen Ashotian, the leader of the HHK’s youth wing and an aide to the Medical University rector, claimed that the corruption allegations are politically motivated. He also charged that Dashnaktsutyun has links with private medical schools and wants to discredit his university to benefit them. “We as well as some sections of the public are well aware of that,” he said.
Robert Makarian, who heads the student council at the State Agricultural Academy, said Nikol Aghbalian leaders have never raised their grievances with the councils. “Dashnaktsutyun’s student union is absolutely unaware of how students live and what their problems are,” he said.
The accusations come amid increasingly tense relations between the Republicans led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and their junior coalition partners. Dashnaktsutyun and the third coalition party, Orinats Yerkir, have been pushing for a major change in Armenia’s electoral system that would increase the number of parliament seats contested under the proportional system.
The HHK, on the other hand, has a vested in maintaining the 56 of the 131 seats distributed in individual constituencies. Its uncompromising stance has led Dashnaktsutyun to threaten to pull out of the coalition.
The news conference by the Republican student leaders also featured verbal attacks on Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, a senior member of Orinats Yerkir. “Our education minister is dealing with anything except student problems,” said Makarian.