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Russian will remain a “foreign language” in Armenia despite government plans to improve young Armenians’ knowledge of it, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian said on Friday.

“In the Republic of Armenia, Armenian is and will remain the only official language because we are an independent and sovereign country,” he told a news conference. “This is an axiom. All other languages are foreign languages.”

Mkrtchian was commenting on controversy caused by the Armenian Education Ministry’s plans to improve the teaching of the Russian language in the country’s schools. In a policy “concept” posted on a government website on September 11, the ministry stressed the economic, cultural, scientific and even “geopolitical” importance of “popularizing Russian.”

The ministry initiative prompted strong criticism from some Armenian commentators and prominent public figures who consider it as a threat to the current status of the Armenian language.

Prime Minister Karen Karapetian insisted on Thursday that he never instructed the ministry to promote Russian at the expense of other languages. Mkrtchian echoed those assurances.

“The prime minister didn’t say, ‘Create a concept for the Russian language,’” he said. “The prime minister’s instruction was to ensure a qualitative change in the methodology of teaching foreign languages.”

Mkrtchian said his ministry has also been working on a separate concept for a better teaching of the English, French and German languages in Armenian schools. He said that Russian warrants a separate policy framework because it uses a different alphabet and is still more commonly spoken in Armenia than any other foreign language.

He also argued that Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Russian is the “working language” of the trade bloc comprising five former Soviet republics,

The Russian parliament speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, caused a stir in Yerevan in July when he suggested that Armenia adopt Russian as its second official language in order to make Armenian driving licenses fully valid in Russia. Armenian officials were quick to reject the idea. Mkrtchian on Friday again dismissed Volodin’s statement.

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