YEREVAN — Armenia’s minister for education, science, culture, and sports has dismissed calls for his resignation by an influential, diaspora-backed opposition party, which staged a rally to protest his policies.
Youth-wing members of the conservative and nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) staged a sit-in at Minister Arayik Harutiunian’s place of work to voice opposition to his legislative initiative that would make the teaching of the Armenian language, literature, and history optional at universities.
The party, which failed to win seats in parliament in the December 2018 election, has also criticized the ministry for funding the performance of a play it deemed offensive.
Controversy ensued over the past weekend during an outdoor rehearsal of a modernist play based on early 20th-century Armenian poetry.
Some Dashnaktsutyun members accused the performers of “nontraditional” sexual orientation and unpatriotic behavior.
However, Harutiunian, a key figure in the country’s 2018 “velvet revolution” and a member of the ruling Civil Contract Party, seemed undaunted by the criticism.
“I am ready to resign only when I feel I’m not doing enough. This is not the case,” he said.
He countered by accusing Dashnaktsutyun of obstructing reforms, and of displaying “undisciplined behavior” inside the country.
Harutiunian appealed to Dashnaktsutyun’s backers outside Armenia to “take care of their [Armenian-based] party, because…[it] does not give credit to one of our oldest political parties.”
He praised the foreign branches of Dashnaktsutyun, saying that “during my visits abroad I see adequate…partners willing to engage in constructive work, I do not see it here [in Armenia].”
Founded in 1890, the party has a strong base abroad and Armenia’s diaspora is a factor in domestic politics via family ties, remittances, aid, and investments.
One Dashnaktsutyun member, Gegham Manukian, dismissed the minister’s accusations and accused him of trying to drive a wedge between Dashnaktsutyun members in Armenia and abroad.
“I would simply advise that Arayik Harutiunian refrain from even thinking about that or else he will end up in a very bad place,” Manukian said.