Education Minister Armen Ashotian was confronted on Thursday by hundreds of angry students of a state-run university in Yerevan protesting against the controversial sacking of their rector Suren Zolian.
Ashotian visited Yerevan State Linguistic University to explain and defend his decision which Zolian has denounced as illegal. He again said that the rector can challenge it in court.
The sacking resulted from a bitter dispute that 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.
Ashotian agreed to meet the university students when more than 100 of them demonstrated outside his office on Wednesday.
The meeting was due to take place in a university auditorium. But the room proved too small to accommodate all students, leading the deputy rector, Gabriel Balayan, to ask the minister to address them in the university courtyard.
“The students standing downstairs are the people with whom you agreed yesterday to meet,” Balayan said. “We represented those students at the meeting with you.”
Ashotian was reluctant to hold the meeting outdoors. “Are you concerned with the quantity or quality?” he asked.
“Listen to what they are saying,” Balayan replied as the mostly female crowd chanted “Come down, minister!”
The ensuing outdoor meeting turned chaotic and was cut short as word spread of police detaining one of the students supporting Zolian. The student, Narek Samsonian, was released shortly afterwards. Samsonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that police officers accused him of trying to provoke a brawl before letting him go.