Students of a secondary school in Yerevan have expressed solidarity with one of their teachers who claims to have been forced to quit his job after refusing to promote President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional changes.
The 24-year-old history teacher, Karpis Pashoyan, resigned from the public School No. 145 just days after a disputed referendum on those changes held on December 6. The official reason for his de facto dismissal is absenteeism and repeated failure to turn up to classes on time.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Pashoyan admitted having failed to report for work for “three or four times” without informing the school administration beforehand. He said that on one of those occasions he was in police custody after being detained during an opposition rally in Yerevan.
Pashoyan insisted that the real reason for his ouster is his refusal to obey the school principal Rimma Davtian’s orders to urge the parents of his students to vote for the proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution. He said Davtian had previously warned him against attending anti-government gatherings.
“I refused to do that,” he said. “What is more, I told parents outside the school to vote ‘No’ [in the referendum.] The teaching staff did not want to see me anymore.”
A member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Davtian headed a precinct election commission that organized voting and counted ballots in the school premises turned into a polling station on December 6. She has refused to comment on the controversy, leaving it to her deputy, Susanna Hambarian, to deny any political reasons for Pashoyan’s sacking.
Many of the school’s students aged between 12 and 14 were quick to voice support for the young teacher and demand his reinstatement through social media. “They told us to delete those comments from our [Facebook] pages but we won’t do that,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
“No matter how much they pressure us, we’re not going to remove those statuses,” said another teenage boy.
They and their classmates said they want Pashoyan to regain his job because they hold him in high regard. “When Mr. Pashoyan came to our school, he completely changed our mindsets,” one of them explained. “Everyone started studying history in earnest.”
“The most important thing we’ve learned from him is to be decent human beings and to defend our rights,” said another student.“Nobody can violate our rights,” he added. “We have the right to free speech and will speak up as much as it will be necessary.”
School principals in Armenia have long been assigned by the government or the ruling party to run electoral bodies in communities encompassing their schools. Opposition activists and media have accused many of them of pressurizing teachers and student parents to back pro-government candidates in elections or vote for constitutional changes initiated by the authorities.
The independent and pro-opposition Armenian press was rife with reports about these and other abuses of government resources by the HHK in the run-up to the recent referendum. The ruling party strongly denied them.
As well as defending Pashoyan’s dismissal, Hambarian, the vice-principal, expressed hope that the scandal in her school will lead the government, the HHK and other parties to stop relying on school personnel in the conduct of electoral processes.
“Maybe this will make them think about not getting schools and teachers involved in such things,” she said. “Because when a school principal is also an election commission chairperson everyone thinks that he or she definitely engages in political activities within the school.”