Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian reiterated on Tuesday his demands for the resignation of the long-serving rector of Armenia’s largest and oldest university who is facing growing pressure from the government.
Harutiunian claimed that Yerevan State University (YSU) has experienced “regress” under Aram Simonian, the man who has run it for the last 13 years.
“I see very serious problems with [Simonian’s] tenure,” he told reporters. “Just look at the current state of YSU and see where YSU is headed.”
The minister spoke the day after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian publicly demanded the resignation of unnamed university rectors who he said are linked to Armenia’s former leadership. Pashinian said they placed the universities under the strong influence of the former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and tried to prevent students from joining street protests that brought him to power last May.
Harutiunian did not deny that Pashinian’s demands were primarily addressed to Simonian, who remains affiliated with the HHK. He expressed confidence that YSU’s Board of Trustees will continue to “discuss” government efforts to oust the rector.
The board narrowly failed to sack Simonian when it met on February 28. Only half of its members are appointed by the government.
Simonian, meanwhile, again refused to comment on Pashinian’s latest remarks, saying that the prime minister did not name names. “I have been rector for 13 years and various speculations have revolved around me during all this time,” he told journalists. “I can’t comment on every speculation.”
Simonian also declined to say whether he thinks Pashinian’s statement amounted to a breach of YSU’s autonomy guaranteed by Armenian law.
In a statement issued earlier this month, YSU’s Scientific Council accused Harutiunian and Davit Sanasarian, the head of the State Oversight Service (SOS), of interfering in the university’s internal affairs.
The SOS, which is subordinate to the prime minister, implicated the YSU administration in serious financial irregularities in December. The Armenian police likewise alleged last month that Simonian has embezzled YSU funds and engaged in other corrupt practices over the past decade.
Simonian, who has still not been formally charged with any crime, denies the allegations as politically motivated. He has said that he will not resign before serving out his current term in office in 2020.