Special for the Armenian Weekly
YEREVAN (A.W.)—Ahead of Armenia’s upcoming Parliamentary Elections on April 2, Armenia has witnessed the creation of new alliances, allegations of early campaigning, and several instances of violence linked to election campaigns.
And with the death of “the bringer of bread” Artur Sargsyan, and the detainment of former Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, the pre-election period has taken new turns.
Sargsyan’s death, which has led to protests and multiple demonstrations in his honor, has only fueled more citizens of Armenia who are discontent with the ruling regime, to join and demonstrate in the streets.
Meanwhile, Babayan’s arrest has been seen as a threat to the Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian alliance, due to their close ties with the former Defense Minister. In the midst of all of this, a discredited former president has appeared on public television announcing that Artsakh should concede territories and compromise.
And now, based on the evidence of the Union of Informed Citizens (UIC), election campaigns have been accused of targeting public schools—specifically school principals.
Back in February, Armenia’s Minister of Education and Sciences Levon Mkrtchyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) urged all the schools in the country not to engage in partisan politics. He said that school principals have the right to belong to political parties but cannot participate in disseminating propaganda within schools.
However, on March 24, the UIC announced that one of its activists—posing as a senior Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) representative— telephoned the directors of 136 schools and kindergartens in and out of Yerevan, and revealed that 114 of them admitted to drawing up lists of students’ parents, as well as schoolteachers and staff, who promised to support the RPA in the upcoming elections.
The UIC said that these lists were submitted to local government bodies or RPA campaign offices. “We phoned all administrative districts in Yerevan and all provinces,” the UIC’s Daniel Ioannisyan said in a news conference. “More than 80 percent of school and kindergarten directors admitted that they submitted such lists for the Republican Party and gave details of those lists.”
Some of the longest lists included up to 1,700 names. This type of list was found with the head of Gyumri’s secondary school No. 37. Ioannisyan added that in this case, the school principal stated that the Republicans were using various methods—including intimidation—to deal with voters.
In another case, a dispute erupted in a village in the Lori province, when a local principal suspected that there were staff members who had been in support of a party other than the RPA, an anonymous source told the Armenian Weekly.
“A whole series of exclamations ensued. [One] staff member said how the accusations were ridiculous and that they would never do such a thing, because they already know that they have to vote for the Republican Party,” a teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Armenian Weekly. “The principal then continued to list reasons as to why the staff member must vote for the RPA, while other teachers reluctantly gave their own reasons.”
According to the teacher, the principal of the same school passed out candy to students and staff with RPA campaign branded wrappers.
The UIC has published a list of all the principals involved with creating election lists for the RPA. The list includes details and recorded conversations with the principals of 84 schools and 30 kindergartens.
The RPA has since called this a “dishonest” way of discrediting RPA supporters. In a written statement, the RPA did not deny that many schools are campaigning for them, but instead stated that “recruitment, registration, mobilization, and identification of the potential electorate” is part of campaigning.
On March 26, as a result of this news, the Office of the Prosecutor General ordered a working group to study and analyze the published report by the UIC. The following day, the Armenia’s Education Ministry said that it will be investigating the claims made by UIC. Deputy Minister of Education and Sciences Manuk Mkrtchyan has requested that the school officials involved in the UIC claim provide clarification.
In addition, the Ministry sent out notifications to all the governors and mayors in Armenia, advising to take the appropriate measures to prevent political propaganda within education institutions. Meanwhile, the office of Armenia’s Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender) announced that it is in the process of thoroughly studying and examining the published records of the UIC.
The office of the Human Rights Defender reported that after transparent investigation is conducted, it will make sure to follow up to ensure that criminal charges are applied if necessary. The Ombudsman has also reached out to the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) for clarification regarding the matter.
With the election less than a week away, it will be interesting to see how this latest controversy will play out—both before and after the polls close.