Calls for boycotting classes over “rigged” elections that have been made by some students since Monday and the general activity of student groups in recent days have elicited mixed reactions from representatives of different political forces.
Some have condemned such behavior, while others have backed student rights to actively express their political views.
Students disgruntled at the conduct of the February 18 presidential election and mostly supporting opposition candidate Raffi Hovannisian declared an open-ended boycott of classes on February 25, demanding a re-run of what they claim was a rigged election.
Students, among whom are also young activists affiliated with Hovannisian’s Heritage Party, have been going from university to university, urging others to join their action.
In doing so the student groups have met with resistance from police, university administrations, lecturers as well as some students who are against “disrupting the education process” over political matters. Some lecturers and university leaders have cited the statement of the Ministry of Education and Science according to which “political activities and propaganda within the premises of educational institutions is prohibited by law.”
Assistant to the rector at Yerevan State University Gevorg Melkonyan, who also heads the Union of Young University Students and is a member of the ruling Republican Party, has been explaining to students that this is not a nationwide movement, but rather a political movement, and students should not be joining it.
“Yerevan State University stood up once, in 1988, when Karabakh was at stake, and God forbid, if tomorrow there will be this problem again, the university, all of us will again rise. This isn’t the Artsakh issue now, this is not a national issue,” explained Melkonyan.
Meanwhile, most members of student councils of Armenia’s state-run universities are also members of the ruling party, a circumstance making student life ‘politicized’ per se.
In general, it appears the ruling party has also been using extensively the resource of students for its own political purposes.
Political analyst Levon Shirinyan reminds of “organized” student actions near embassies of foreign states, for example, of France, in 2011, to say “thank you” for criminalizing genocide denial at a legislative level, which eventually, however, was not upheld by the highest court.
Students have also been used en masse for supporting the ruling party’s campaigns, including during this year’s presidential election and last year’s parliamentary polls.
As many as 150 students, most of them aged 18-22, were badly injured in an accident at a campaign rally of the Republican Party in May 2012 when air balloons filled with flammable gas exploded. None of the organizers has been punished for obvious negligence of safety rules resulting in a tragedy.
“If society is getting politicized, how can students remain aloof? They are part of the country and have attitudes of their own,” said Shirinyan, who himself is a university lecturer.
Ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan says that it is only natural that all political parties should be trying to politicize young people and shape their own youth wings with which to implement their programs.
“Students should decide themselves whether they want to become politically active or not. They are adults, they have their own positions and the right to express their positions,” said Kharatyan, reminding that students played a key role in forming political thought in Europe in the 1960s.
The ethnographer also remembers the 1988 Karabakh movement, in which students also played a key role.
“At that time, too, lecturers and university administrations told students that they were wrong in getting involved in ongoing political processes and that their duty was to study,” said Kharatyan, adding that since independence students in Armenia have also been quite active in political process, especially in post-election developments.