The longtime head of a state-run Armenian university rejected as illegal his dismissal by Education Minister Armen Ashotian as hundreds of students demonstrated in Yerevan in his support on Wednesday.
Ashotian sacked Suren Zolian as rector of Yerevan State Linguistic University on Tuesday in an intensifying dispute between the two men.
The row was sparked by Ashotian’s decision on April 6 to formally reprimand Zolian for being absent from Armenia from March 19-23 without his permission. The rector reacted furiously and lambasted the young minister through the media before receiving a second “strict reprimand” earlier this week.
Zolian, who has run the university since 1997, refused to comply with his sacking, saying that it runs counter to an article of an Armenian law on state universities and other organizations. He said that that only the government as a whole can relieve him of his duties.
“I have suspended the minister’s decree and I remain rector,” Zolian told several hundred students that gathered in a university auditorium in a show of support for him.
“We know Zolian as a very educated and competent person and are convinced that he is right,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We won’t allow good people to be kicked out of the system.”
The mostly female students demonstrated outside the Ministry of Science and Education later in the day to demand a meeting with Ashotian. The latter agreed to meet with a group of their representatives but the protesters refused, insisting that he talk to all of them.
Ashotian defended the legality of his sacking order, pointing to another clause of the law cited by Zolian. He at the same time suggested that the rector challenge the order in court.
“It’s not up to a minister of a former rector to interpret the law,” Ashotian told reporters. “Neither I nor the former rector have no legal authority to interpret the law.”
Zolian told the students that he is already planning legal action.