By Nane Atshemian and Emil Danielyan
Teachers of the state-run secondary schools in Yerevan have been instructed to promote President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional changes among students and their parents, a senior official indicated on Monday.
Onik Vatian, who heads the Yerevan municipality’s education department, confirmed reports that relevant “explanatory work” has already begun in some schools. It also emerged that Mayor Yervand Zakharian will hold a special meeting on the issue with hundreds of schoolteachers on Tuesday.
“It won’t hurt if the teachers present provisions of [Kocharian’s constitutional] draft in an objective and impartial manner and compare them with the previous draft during their conversations,” Vatian told a news conference. “We always urged social science teachers to discuss such issues with children.”
“As for the parents, why should we ban a schoolteacher, especially the one who teaches Armenia history, from giving a talk on the constitution?” he said. “I find it normal. Who else should work with the parents?”
Vatian added that he has already discussed the issue with schoolteachers but denied pressuring them to vote for Kocharian’s package of amendments at the November 27 referendum and to urge others to follow their example. He said some of them told him that they will vote against the amendments.
Vatian also denied that the Yerevan municipality is enlisting teachers for the pre-referendum “Yes” campaign on orders from the central government and the Education Ministry in particular.
The Armenian authorities have long used school staffs for ensuring desired outcomes of national elections. For example, Justice Minister David Harutiunian, himself a former schoolteacher, personally campaigned for Kocharian’s reelection in 2003, visiting schools in Yerevan and urging their personnel to vote for the incumbent.
In addition, many Armenian schools also serve as venues for polling stations. It is therefore not uncommon for teachers to sit on precinct-level election commissions. Some of those commissions were even headed by school principals during the 2003 presidential ballot. They were reportedly under pressure to ensure the incumbent’s victory at any cost or risk losing their jobs.
(Photolur photo: The new Yerevan municipality building.)