Monthly Archives: June 2010

Things Happening (or not) in Armenia

The summer is upon us, which means that things will begin slowing down in Yerevan politically and socially, but not necessarily culturally. There’s always plenty to do for social butterflies in the summer months, plenty of cafes to visit, concerts to attend and distractions to take your attention away from things that really matter.

Liberty Square has become a giant playground for preschoolers–the authorities are doing everything possible to prevent peaceful political demonstrations from happening there. In the meantime, cafes galore where you can watch the World Cup soccer games while drinking a beer or two and even place bets with the “international bookmakers” doing business here. We have another few weeks of that to go.

In the meantime, political life will begin to drop off for the summer, on both ends of the spectrum. The entire government even shuts down during late summer for a couple of weeks, something that really perplexes me. Even the press takes a break–all newspapers and even online news sources stop working because there’s nothing apparently to report. That is of course absurd but that’s the way things work in a tiny country of barely 3 million people.

The Karabagh peace process will not go anywhere this year after the Azerbaijani-initiated skirmishes on the border on Saturday, half a day after both Presidents Serge Sarkisian and Illham Aliev met with Dmitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg. Yet on a positive note, I’ve been reading about conferences being held where Armenian and Azerbaijani university students meet to get to know one another and share experiences, in an effort to reach out and find some kind of solution to the conflict through the channels of civil society. Based on what they have written, in other words their own personal accounts, their efforts are naive and impractical at best.

Indeed, there should be discussion between the two societies, but at the end of the day, the Azerbaijanis expect things to go back to the status quo of the Soviet era–in other words for Karabagh to once again be placed under Azerbaijani control (naturally with the Armenian-occupied lands returned) in exchange for “the highest level of autonomy,” and I am pretty sure that the younger Azerbaijani generation expects the same, having been thoroughly brainwashed. So don’t necessarily understand what the Armenian and Azerbaijani youth groups are aiming to achieve through casual dialogue and partying (again, according to what I read).

Having said that, I really have no grounds for criticizing the youth because there needs to be discussion, the two sides must talk to one another through unofficial channels, now more than ever. My concern is–to what end?

I couldn’t find any more news about Gohar’s case. If anyone reading this blog has, please leave a comment with a link to the article you’ve found.

A Follow Up In Gohar’s Case

A1 Plus published a follow-up article–this time both in Armenian and English– about the case of Gohar Martirosyan, who tragically committed suicide on June 4 after she discovered she had flunked an impossible university entrance exam testing knowledge of the Armenian language and literature.

Below is the full text, with my minor copy edits in brackets.

The [Armenian] Assessment and Testing Centre (ATC) today published the results of a joint examination in Armenian Language and Literature held on June 4 across the republic.

Interestingly, posters appeared on the walls of Yerevan buildings today with [strong statements addressed] to the [ATC].

“The [Armenian language exam] sows hatred towards the language,” “Check our knowledge and not the contents of our parents’ pocket,” “You are responsible for Gohar’s death,” read the posters.

The [ATC] declined to comment on the accusations.

“The messages convey public accusations. The ATC is not a political body to answer the accusations,” said ATC spokeswoman Gayane Manukyan.

“The [ATC] will invite specialists to discuss the exam results after receiving the appeals which are to be submitted [to] examination centers within 24 hours,” she added.

[We remind readers] that the exam was marred by an incident in which a teenage girl committed suicide soon after learning that she had scored an unsatisfactory mark (7.5 points [out of a possible 20]) for Armenian language and literature.

Gohar Martirosyan, 17, who studied at Viktor Hambartsumyan Secondary School #12 in Yerevan’s Shengavit community, jumped from a seventh-floor balcony after learning the result of the exam.

Today, the ATC spokeswoman refused to comment on the consequences of the death saying the police probe into the case is ongoing.

I hope to continue posting more updates about this tragic situation, specifically on the ATC’s unacceptably delayed reaction.

There’s another very interesting article on Tert.am that claims 1,171 students have failed the Armenian language and literature examination thus far this year.

Paradox in the Armenian Education Debate

Last night my wife mentioned that a girl had committed suicide after finding out that she flunked her Armenian language exam, which she needed to pass in order to be accepted into university. I asked her if she could determine the news source, and she found two articles on A1+. I tried to find other articles written about this tragedy but I wasn’t able to.

The girl’s name was Gohar Martirosyan, only 17 years old. She apparently threw herself out of the window of her family’s apartment, located on the sixth floor in a Shengavit neighborhood. The incident occurred on June 4.

A press conference was held on June 7 sponsored by a group of “honored” teachers and literary critics called Mirror. They complained that the entrance exam was designed so that students would fail. The exam apparently contains complicated, intense words that are no longer used in modern Armenian or cannot be practically applied to university-level courses. Although Gohar’s grade wasn’t specified, it was inferred from a quote from one of the group’s members, Davit Gasparyan, that she received a 7 out of a possible 20 points, and she had been recognized as being a good student. He also mentioned that the top score being earned by students on this exam who do study hard is only 15. Mirror finds the exam as it exists to be totally unacceptable, and students should not be permitted to struggle though such a difficult entrance process. Students should simply be tested on the Armenian they had been learning during their primary education as part of the curriculum. The test incidentally was designed by the Assessment and Testing Centre.

So you have children who have gone to Armenian schools their entire lives failing entrance exams on which they are doomed to do poorly. In the meantime, politicians, journalists and other blowhards are protesting vehemently in front of the National Assembly against the proposed bill that if passed would permit the opening of private foreign-language schools. Their argument is that primary education must be taught in the Armenian language exclusively.

But it seems that no matter how hard you study, you’re going to be denied entry into the state university if you don’t know classical Armenian or obsolete words. So the public educational system is clearly flawed. If anything, the opening of private schools would essentially compel the Ministry of Science and Education to raise the bar of the state educational system. They can start by punishing teachers who demand bribes and ensuring that all students have the proper books they need to learn.

No one from the opposition to the proposals for opening private schools seems to be commenting on the suicide other than Mirror. There apparently isn’t public concern about what’s happening during the entrance exams, that students are failing a vital, make-or-break test given in their own mother tongue, the same they studied their whole lives. People are dying as a result. But, they argue, all subjects must continue to be taught in Armenian at all costs, private schools or public, otherwise the nation’s statehood is in jeopardy, that in 20 years no one in power will know Armenian had they benefitted from schooling conducted in a foreign-language. Two political parties are behind this ridiculous sentiment and are rallying citizens behind them, exploiting it to the hilt. But to what end?

The hypocrisy being demonstrated here is astounding. Students continue to suffer from poor education while expected to meet high standards they are never permitted to achieve in the first place because of a crippled, dysfunctional system in which the amount of cash defines the level of knowledge. It’s clearly not Gohar who is at fault—she is a victim of a corrupt, unjust structure that she would never have been able to beat on her own. All she wanted to do was go to university.

Now a new question must enter the debate—will she be the last victim?