By Nane Atshemian
The youth wing of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party accused on Friday university administrations of launching reprisals against its members and other students that allege rampant corruption in Armenia’s system of higher education.
The leaders of Dashnaktsutyun’s Nikol Aghbalian Student Union said authorities at state-run universities are looking to punish participants of their recent opinion poll that found a widespread perception that bribery and other corrupt practices seriously affect the students’ academic life.
The survey was promptly denounced last week by the youth league of another governing party, the HHK, which dominate student councils. The latter are in turn controlled by university rectors.
“We have touched very painful spots of some people,” Ishkhan Saghatelian, chairman of the Nikol Aghbalian union, told a news conference.
“The pressures vary. They first of all look for students who dared fill out the poll questionnaires,” Saghatelian said. He added that the reprisals involve threats to expel students or prevent them from continuing their studies at the graduate and post-graduate levels.
The practice of paying a bribe to enroll in a public university or receive a high grade afterward dates back to the Soviet era and has continued unabated since independence. Government officials, including the previous Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, have failed to reduce its scale.
The Nikol Aghbalian leaders again declined to implicate concrete rectors or professors in bribery. “If we say that a particular professor is corrupt then we must have evidence. But we don’t have that evidence at this point,” admitted Saghatelian. “Besides, we would also have to name students giving bribes.”
Saghatelian also denied the HHK youth leaders’ claims that the Dashnak students’ corruption allegations are politically motivated. “We are talking about the phenomenon of corruption, while they are attacking Dashnaktsutyun’s Nikol Aghbalian student union. I can’t understand why,” he said.
The angry exchange comes amid mounting tensions between Dashnaktsutyun and the HHK which is led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The two parties are at odds over an electoral reform sought by Dashnaktsutyun and the third party represented in Armenia’s government, Orinats Yerkir. The HHK is blocking their efforts to raise the number of parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation.