By Nane Atshemian
Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian took a swipe Thursday at the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of three parties represented in his government, over its allegations that Armenia’s system of higher education is rife with corruption.
Yeritsian indicated that the education sector was no less corrupt when it was run by Dashnaktsutyun until his appointment as education minister almost two years ago.
The nationalist party’s student organization called Nikol Aghbalian launched a public campaign last November against widespread bribery and other corrupt practices in state-run universities. Nikol Aghbalian leaders said most students randomly polled by them said their professors routinely take bribes to give high examination marks.
The campaign was angrily denounced by the pro-government student councils of virtually all universities which are controlled by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK).
The controversy highlighted tensions between Dashnaktsutyun and the HHK that existed at the time. The third coalition partner, Yeritsian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, has also had uneasy ties with the Republicans.
However, Yeritsian publicly sided with the HHK on the issue. “Frankly, I am surprised that many youth organizations, notably Nikol Aghbalian, are so agitated and worried about the sector. The sector is now as corrupt as it was a few years ago,” he told a news conference.
The remark was a thinly veiled reference to the fact that the Armenian Ministry of Education was headed by a leading member of Dashnaktsutyun, Levon Mkrtchian, from 1998-1999 and 2001-2003.
Mkrtchian has led the Dashnaktsutyun faction in parliament ever since he was replaced by Yeritsian in June 2003. Mkrtchian and his brother Vahagn have extensive business interests.
Yeritsian claimed that corruption in the Armenian education sector is not as rampant is it is often presented. “The education sector mirrors the overall situation in the country,” he said. “I am not of the opinion that the education system is the most corrupt in the country. I think that on the contrary it is one of the least corrupt spheres.”