The National Assembly avoided an anticipated vote on the proposed legislation on Thursday after two days of heated debates that sparked angry street protests by its most vocal opponents. The vote was postponed until the end of this month.
The fierce resistance from not only opposition but some pro-establishment elements forced the Armenian government to water down the bill ahead of the debates. It now makes clear that foreign-language schools can only be private and above the elementary level.
It also stipulates that there can be no more than 15 such schools across the country. In addition, they would be required to teach one-third of their subjects in Armenian.
These changes failed to satisfy the critics, who say they still pose a threat to Armenian’s constitutional status as the country’s sole official language. Even representatives of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), until now the sole parliamentary force fully supporting the measure, voiced serious misgivings during its parliamentary discussion.
“The bill in its current form is not acceptable to us,” Galust Sahakian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, declared unexpectedly. “After all, states are founded to protect the language and the land. All other things are secondary.”
The statement was all the more extraordinary given Sarkisian’s endorsement of the bill voiced through a presidential spokesman earlier this week.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Sahakian said that the HHK, which controls most parliament seats, is ready to organize more public discussions on the issue this summer “so that the amendments become somehow acceptable to all sides.” “What I am proposing is that we move forward by working together and finding solutions, rather than rejecting each other,” he said.
A senior lawmaker from the HHK’s main coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), insisted on its position that foreign-language courses must be allowed only in high schools. “We are ready to discuss that variant with our coalition partners,” Naira Zohrabian told journalists.
Armen Martirosian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, indicated its readiness, in principle, to embrace such compromise. Vahan Hovannisian of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another vocal opponent of the bill, likewise spoke of a possibility of the parliament factions finding common ground.