Passed: Parliament majority backs controversial school bill

Armenian lawmakers on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to adopt a controversial package of amendments to the country’s legislation that allows a limited number of schools to teach curricula in a language other than Armenian.

With a vote of 71 to 13, with one abstention the government-drafted amendments to the laws ‘On the Language’ and ‘On General Education’ have cleared the first reading at a special parliament meeting and will go for a second-reading discussion and voting when the National Assembly convenes for a plenary session in fall.

Since first unveiling the bill in April the government has had, at least twice, to water down its original version that met strong opposition from some public and political circles. The final variant, which still remains a target for criticism, stipulates that only two private foreign-language schools teaching above the elementary level can operate in Armenia – specifically one in the resort towns of Dilijan and Jermuk each. The other nine schools are allowed to use a foreign language as the main language of instruction only from the third level of secondary education, i.e. senior grades. It is also understood that such schools can be set up only through interstate agreements.

Scores of protesters on Thursday again gathered near the government sessions hall that temporarily hosts parliament meetings to raise their voice of protest against the legislation. A pressure group, called “We Are Against the Opening of Foreign-Language Schools”, has been one of the most active government opponents in this matter.

“We will do everything for this not to become a law,” the group’s member Armen Hovhannisyan told ArmeniaNow before the law was passed. “We will resort to pickets, demonstrations, all possible means of civil protest,” he added.