Armenian University in Political Row
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||5 April 2013|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 682|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Armenian University in Political Row, 5 April 2013, CRS Issue 682, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51769ce54.html [accessed 17 August 2017]|
Lecturer says he was sacked for supporting right to protest.
Armenia's most prestigious university has become embroiled in a scandal after a lecturer said he had been sacked for upholding students' right to protest.
Ararat Mirzoyan, 33, has lectured at Yerevan State University since last year. This March, he discovered that his contract was not being renewed.
He said the dean of his faculty - history and art theory - had approved another year's tenure, and the contract had been duly sent off to the rector's office for processing.
"Yet in mid-March, when I was supposed to start, it turned out my contract had not been agreed," Mirzoyan said.
The university denies ever agreeing to renew the contract, which it says expired in December. But Mirzoyan points out that he continued working into this year, and no one said anything about it.
He believes university officials had a change of heart when he posted comments on Facebook criticising staff for trying to stop students from protesting against the re-election of Serzh Sargsyan as Armenia's president in February.
Mirzoyan said the university's rector, Aram Simonyan, was keen to avoid any fuss over the election result. President Sargsyan is chair of the university's council.
"When they saw the student protests, the university heads decided that the situation might run out of control and cause them problems," Mirzoyan said.
Students involved in the protests confirmed that staff attempted to deter them from taking part.
"The university heads were surprised when the student protests began gathering force, so they decided to pressure us," student Armine Sargsyan said. "They used student councils and the deans to work on each student, appealing to them not to take part in the protests and not to miss classes, since they might have problems otherwise."
On February 27, Gevorg Melkonyan, an assistant to the rector, confronted protesters outside the main university building. A video on Youtube shows him swearing at students and threatening them.
Mirzoyan reported this incident on Facebook the same day, in a statement in which he urged the university authorities to respond and take action against Melkonyan.
He claims it was this Facebook posting that triggered his dismissal.
When IWPR asked the university whether this was the case, its spokesman refused to comment. He referred instead to an earlier statement that Mirzoyan was issued a contract in November, but it was then cancelled at the end of December.
"In 2013, he has no longer been a lecturer at Yerevan State University and has not entered into any legal relationship with it," the statement said.
"That statement amazed me," said Mirzoyan. "If my employment contract expired on December 30, then why was the examination for the course I was teaching set for January 18? Why did they allow me to enter official documents with the assessments of those taking the exam, and to sign them myself?"
Education Minister Armen Ashotyan said he did not believe the decision not to renew Mirzoyan's contract had anything to do with his political views.
In a show of solidarity, a number of other lecturers signed up to the statement Mirzoyan posted on February 27.
According to Anna Khechoyan of Armenia's National Academy of Sciences, "What's happened to Ararat Mirzoyan is an attempt to crush freedom of thought."
She says the true sequence of events began with "an attempt to prevent student protests, even though they have the right to express themselves. Then a lecturer tried to defend the students."
"The situation is now terrible," she added. "A significant number of the lecturers are criticising what happened, but many are afraid to speak out because they could lose their jobs, just like Ararat."