Mock Awards: Pressure group “honors” statesmen espousing foreign-language education in Armenia

A pressure group has given “anti-awards” to a number of top statesmen for their favoring foreign-language schools in Armenia.

Among the “winners” of the prizes announced on Thursday were also the president and prime minister of the country.

The civic initiative group “We Are Against the Reopening of Foreign-Language Schools” says the prize “Ashotyan-Delyanov” (named after Armenia’s current minister of education and science minister Armen Ashotyan and the Russian Empire’s 19th-century ethnic Armenian education minister Ivan Delyanov) and a symbolic monetary award of 30 drams (less than 10 cent), an analogy with 30 pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying Jesus, is designed to “name and shame” individuals and organizations whose activities harm the Armenian language and Armenian-language education so that they stay in the memory of the public and the generation to come.

Last year Armenian lawmakers adopted a government-proposed bill essentially allowing teaching in a language other than Armenian in a limited number of schools in Armenia. The discussions and passage of the bill sparked a great controversy in Armenia as a lot of scholars, politicians and different public activists spoke out against the amendments that they claimed would be damaging to national identity.

In particular, the established civic initiative group “We Are Against the Reopening of Foreign-Language Schools” staged a series of protest actions first against amending the legislation and then against the presidential ratification of the changes.

The pressure group believes the changes involve numerous risks, including the emergence in Armenia of an elite that would speak and think in a foreign language, which, they contend, would endanger the country’s independent statehood and restrict the use of the Armenian language.

“Considering nominations from the public the Anti-Award initiative group has drafted a list of candidates, which was put online for an open voting,” said one of the initiators Armen Hovhannisyan at a Thursday event near ancient manuscripts depository Matenadaran in downtown. The activist added that besides the main “prize winners” all nominees will also be “honored” with “diplomas”.

Among the 10 nominated candidates were the country’s president, prime minister, a number of lawmakers, as well as the mayor of the city of Gyumri, heads of some educational establishments and others.

Based on the results of the voting, the mock award organizers eventually awarded the “top prize” to President Serzh Sargsyan, who in January enacted the additions and amendments to the laws on the language and education. The second prize went to Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who initiated the bill, and the third prize went to 69 members of the National Assembly who in December voted for the passage of the amendments.

“It does not matter who takes which place. All of them equally should feel remorse, this is not a means of punishment, but a fact of record,” artist Lala Mneyan, a supporter of the pressure group opposed to foreign-language education in Armenia, told ArmeniaNow.

The ceramic medals given to the “honorees” are painted in gold, silver or bronze (to correspond to the three degrees of the award) and bear the images of Ashotyan and Delyanov.

No reaction from any of the recipients of the anti-awards came immediately.

In the past, however, government officials and pro-government representatives in parliament explained that the formal removal of the ban on foreign-language education in Armenia, while concerning only a limited number of schools, would be instrumental in raising the quality of general education in the country and would also open up opportunities for borrowing extensively from the experience of foreign and international educators working in Armenia.