2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Armenia. US Department of state

The US Department of State has recently published the 2019 country report on human rights practices in Armenia. Among the overview of the significant human rights issues, two big blocks were of interest. One is the freedom of expression and academic freedom in particular, which in the course of three years shows some positive commentary. Check out the sections from the reports from the three years below.
The positive move is certainly acknowledged but should not be viewed as the goal achieved, rather both the state and the institutions should constantly work towards guaranteeing the freedom of the academic community in their work and study.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENT

2019

“There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The government expressly supported academic freedom and took measures to depoliticize academia, including the appointment of new boards of trustees of public universities. Under pressure from the public and the government for corruption as well as their lack of support for democratic reforms, several rectors, openly or allegedly affiliated with the previous regime, resigned. This included Aram Simonyan, rector of Yerevan State University, the country’s oldest academic institution. Simonyan, a member of the formerly ruling Republican Party of Armenia, resigned following months of a very public and controversial standoff with the minister of education, science, culture, and sports”.

2018

“There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s spring civic uprising changed the perception and practice of academic freedom in the country. Students joined together to protest against corrupt practices in universities. In February, a group of student activists formed the Yerevan State University (YSU) Restart group, which aimed to voice concerns and draw attention to corruption at universities. In April, YSU Restart activists joined the protests against then president Sargsyan becoming prime minister and called on students nationwide to boycott classes and join the campaign. As the protests grew, the management of some universities and public schools locked the doors to prevent students, teachers, and professors from leaving the facility to join the protests. Police used force against students to clear sit-ins and blocked streets. Many students were arrested and taken to police stations, but usually were released the same day. During the protests, there were no cases of university leadership expelling students from school or firing faculty members for missing classes (i.e. participating in protests). After the May change in government, YSU Restart organized protests against the rector of Yerevan State University without threats of repercussion. The “velvet revolution” led to demands for education system leaders to resign. For example, the rector of Shirak State University was forced to resign due to protests against him for corruption and for firing faculty members who criticized him”.

2017

“The administration and student councils of the most prominent state universities were politicized and affiliated with the ruling RPA (see section 3). For example, President Serzh Sargsyan was the president of the Board of Trustees of Yerevan State University. Government ministers led, or were members of, the boards of trustees of other universities. According to human rights observers, student councils in most universities experienced various forms of pressure to support the interests of the university rather than those of the student body and to keep the student body focused on nonpolitical and less sensitive issues. Despite this political influence, most members of academia felt they were able to deliver openly content that could be construed as critical of political institutions and processes. In July organizers of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival canceled the screening of two LGBTI-themed films after negative public reaction (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). On September 11, media reported that the Ministry of Culture had ordered the early closing of an exhibition, entitled “Eclipse,” at the House Museum of Tumanyan that was devoted to the victims of the political repressions in the country during the Stalin era. The closing created a significant reaction in society, to which the Ministry of Culture and other officials responded that the exhibition was too “political” and that it had not been “sanctioned” by the ministry”.

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