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October 8, 2003

ACNIS Policy Seminar on Educational and Cultural Problems of National Minorities

Yerevan—The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a specialized policy seminar here today on “The Educational and Cultural Guaranties for the Self-Preservation of National Minorities.” The conference was held within the framework of the Council of Europe project on “Coordination among National Minorities and Information Exchanges on Minority Rights in Armenia.”

The seminar brought together the representatives of all national minority communities in Armenia to focus on the most pressing problems in the spheres of education and culture.

Hrach Hakobian of ACNIS addressed the capacity audience with opening remarks. “The authorities should think of the people but the people, the citizens should never allow the authorities to think for them. I suggest we have practical discussions to formulate the challenges of the national minority communities today, to find adequate solutions to their imperatives.”

Olga Baghdasarian, principal of the Verin Dvin village school in the Ararat region, presented the concerns of the Assyrian community at the levels of preliminary and secondary education. According to Ms. Baghdassarian, the Assyrian language has been taught at schools since 1972 in the absence of textbooks, although over the last six years the students have had some books made available to them by the Assyrian Association. Ms. Baghdassarian called on the Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia to provide textbooks for the Assyrian students. Another problem of the community is lack of qualified teachers to teach the Assyrian language.

Knyaz Hasanov, representative of the Kurdish community in Armenia, presented the Kurdish aspect. He stated that the previous achievements of the Kurds in Armenia are under threat. For lack of finances, the Kurdish newspaper that had been published over the past seventy years has been shut down. In his opinion, the Armenian government should provide national minorities with financial resources to have such newspapers published.

Misha Muradian, secondary school principal of Amre Taza village, pointed out the issues faced by the Yezidi community which included such problems as lack of windowpanes, textbooks, and more importantly a water supply system.

Slava Rafaelidis, chairman of the Council of Armenian Nationalities who also represents the Greek community, added that “it would be advantageous to have representatives of national minorities on the staffs of the Armenian ministries. It would ease the process of finding solutions to community problems.”

Rabbi Gersh Bourstein, head of the Mordekhay Navi Jewish Community of Armenia, in discussing his community’s difficulties, was concerned about the current process of optimization of schools, which according to him, put the benefit of having or not having a few national schools under threat.

Armenouhi Hovannisian, executive director of Junior Achievement of Armenia, stated in her speech that the new textbook on civic education, which has been prepared by her organization for compulsory use by 9th grade students, encompasses information about the national minorities of Armenia and aims first and foremost to create an atmosphere of tolerance towards them. It also encourages the children of national minorities to integrate into mainstream society and to feel proud of their national identity.

With respect to problems dealing with their cultures, nearly all representatives of the national minorities stressed the priority of establishing the common cultural center promised but not realized by the president of Armenia.

The formal deliberations were followed by questions, answers, and a lively exchange among Siaband Bakoyan, chairman of the “Ezdikhana” association’s political council; Alikhan Shababian, representative of Nor Nork district council; Rostom Aloyan, principal of Alagiaz village school; William Weiner, director of the “Menora” Jewish cultural center; Rima Varzhapetian, chairwoman of the Jewish community of Armenia; Razmik Khosroev of the Assyrian community; Arsen Mikhailov, chairman of the “Atur” Assyrian union; Taisa Arsentevna, principal of Dimitrov village school; Irina Gasparian, representative of the Assyrian community; Yuri Yakovenko, chairman of “Rossia” NGO and principal of a Slavic secondary school; Alexander Yaskorski, head of the German community; Julietta Weis, a German Sunday school teacher; Olha Parkhomenko, head of the Ukrainian Association; Romania Yavir, chairwoman of the Ukrainian community in Armenia; Valentina Krishtopik, chairwoman of Belarussian community in Armenia; Alla Kuzminskaya, chairwoman of the Polish community in Armenia; Karapet Kalenchian of ACNIS; Stepan Safarian ACNIS project director; Hranush Kharatian, head of the Center for Ethnographical Research; Nara Gulian, assistant to the presidential advisor; Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee; Shavarsh Khachatrian, researcher at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom; Ara Sahakian of the “Armat” center; Ovsanna Madatian, editor of a Yezidi monthly newspaper; Garnik Guyumjian of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Youth Issues; Nadia Antonian of the Ministry of Education and Science; and many others.

Founded in 1994 by Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K. Hovannisian, and supported by the Lincy Foundation and a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2003, the Center focuses primarily on public outreach, civic education, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.

For further information on the Center and its activities, call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; e-mail root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am

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