For months, the whole world has been plunged in a deep crisis. Armenian society worldwide has had an additional challenge: Middle Eastern Armenian communities have been struggling to survive, and other communities have been mobilized to support them. The coronavirus pandemic is destroying lives while also exacerbating economic crises.
While our homeland, Armenia, has been shaken by the coronavirus, its government has undertaken an initiative that may, in the long run, be an even greater cause for concern than a pandemic, which, thanks to human ingenuity, ultimately will be brought under control.
About a month ago, the Republic of Armenia published its new National Security Strategy. In this document, there are only passing references to culture and education. In the prime minister’s announcement, they are grouped under the headings “National Values” and “National Goals.” They are mentioned, but it seems there’s little to be done about them. The 2007 version of the document, by contrast, had a lot to say about national identity, education and culture, and the maintenance of Armenian identity. In short, the new strategy significantly shortchanges those areas.
Nine months ago, a plan was announced to remove the requirement for Armenian language and history classes from university curricula; this plan was adopted in spite of strong opposition. For the duration of the debate, the minister in charge was notably disrespectful toward critics of the plan.
Now it’s the turn for public schools to have their curricula reformed, modernized, and adopted to the demands of the present. This is a process that any society goes through periodically, but meticulously and without panic. A few days ago, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports presented the curricula for “Armenian History,” “World History,” “Armenian Language,” and “Literature.”
In modernizing educational programs, pedagogical and methodological questions and the selection of authors and texts are specialized matters about which the general public doesn’t have much to say. In this case, however, the identity of the individuals determining the curriculum and the contents of textbooks, along with their choices of topics and texts, show the questionable purposes of the changes. This is especially so since their strategy was not defined and explained up front.
There are serious reservations around the Armenian History, Armenian Language, and Literature curricula, which endanger an education that reinforces a national upbringing. The director of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Professor Ashot Melkonyan, is preparing to ask the National Security Service to examine the issue. The same alarm has been raised by the holder of the History of Armenia Chair at the Faculty of History of Yerevan State University, Professor Artak Movsisyan.
Both professors note that the curricula and approaches are taken from “History Education in Schools in Turkey and Armenia։ A Critique and Alternatives,” a publication that purports to provide detailed guidance to authors of history textbooks in Armenia and Turkey. The participants in this joint Armenian-Turkish publication are the individuals entrusted with developing the Armenian history curriculum for Armenia.
The Philology Department of Yerevan State University has issued a communiqué about the Armenian Language and Literature curricula. The academic council of the department provides a rationale for its deep concern about, lack of confidence in, and rejection of the program, “State Curricula for Public Education.” In this context, we are seriously concerned about the cursory attention given in the curricula to diaspora Armenian literature. Diaspora Armenian literature is an enormous part of the Armenian literary heritage. It also has a critical role in fostering a connection between Armenia and Armenian communities worldwide.
We conclude from this process that the educational realm is being taken advantage of to improve, in the long term, Armenian-Turkish relations without the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and reparations. In its time, similar efforts by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) were defeated through the wakefulness of Armenians. Later, the so-called soccer diplomacy initiated in 2008 suffered a similar inglorious defeat in 2018.
The new curricula in Armenian history, Armenian language, and literature aim to serve the same purpose over the years. As such, they are to be rejected absolutely.
Since the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Armenians have struggled for its international recognition. We now live in the next stage. We have come a long way. It is not time to stop, especially as Armenians face many challenges. We believe that Armenian history textbooks should be based exclusively on reality and truth, without consideration for the wishes and interests of any outside power or circle. Armenian education should have only an Armenian orientation, a national orientation. That is the only way an Armenian civic education will serve the development of Armenia and Armenian culture.
We expect that the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports of the Republic of Armenia will reconsider the curricula it published for public comment and take care that its core revolve around national values, the national and cultural components that characterize the Armenian people, and the unity of diaspora and Armenia. This draft should be examined by experts; the issues they raise, and the corrections they recommend should be incorporated in it. We believe that this is the only way to guarantee the development of the national character and identity of future generations—which are more than essential for a nation like ours that has been able to survive and thrive by maintaining its language and culture.
Finally, we hereby announce our willingness to participate in their process, with the goal of resolving the issues raised here.
Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society
Central Executive Board
Beirut, 2 August 2020