25 June 2024

Tuesday, 06:46


At the same time it names Russia a strategic partner, Armenia forbids its citizens from getting a Russian-language education



"They often say that numbers run the world," wrote Goe-the, "but there is at least no doubt that numbers show how it is run." The great German writer as far back as the eighteenth century, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and far before the Digital Revolution, predicted the reality in which we live. Without a knowledge of statistics it is now impossible to determine the real state of affairs, make predictions, or plan for the future.

It so happened that for more than seventy years the citizens of a single country made up of fifteen republics could freely move across its limitless expanses for family, work-related, or other reasons. Specialists from various professions and their families settled down where they were needed. There came a time when the republics decided to begin life on their own. As a result, millions of people ended up outside the state borders of their homelands, the lands of their ancestors. This legacy of the USSR, and the Russian Empire before that, continues to remain an important issue even more than twenty years later. People who are now citizens of different countries have by no means become enemies to one another - not in the least. The issue is where it is more comfortable to live and where they see a brighter future for the coming generation. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Moldovans, and Armenians are perfectly happy in Russia and see their future in that country. At the same time they do not forget their language, do not lose their ties with their homeland, and are a part of countless diaspora organizations. Twenty-five million people who consider themselves Russians or Russian-speakers currently live outside of Russia in the countries of the former Soviet Union. They are the topic of this article. Or, to be more precise, the topic of this article is the findings of independent experts who have been to these countries.

In Moscow there was a presentation of the findings of a wide-ranging and in many ways one-of-a-kind report "An Analysis of the Status of Russian-Speaking Citizens in the Countries of the CIS and Baltic States," presented by the president of the NGO Ac-ceptare, Master of Law Victoria Pavlenko and expert from the Eurasia Institute of Strategic Research Tatiana Borzova. 

Over several months a large number of statistical and legal regulatory documents were analysed, sociological surveys taken, and media and academic publications dissected.

Among the primary topics of research was the presence of a legislative base regulating the functional domains of the Russian language, the use of Russian in state-wide and regional media, and the ability to study in Russian-language-medium classrooms. 

Through sociological surveys it became clear the Russian-speaking population of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) does not really feel any support from Russia. Data from Azerbaijan was not presented, which leads one to think that only a miniscule percentage of respondents were dissatisfied. The highest numbers for this field were in the follow republics: Moldova (80 per cent), Ukraine (73 per cent), Kyrgyzstan (72 per cent), Armenia (71 per cent), Kazakhstan (70 per cent), Georgia (69 per cent). Within this field were included cultural ties, educational programs in Russian, youth programmes, monitoring that the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers were protected, and aid to the elderly who have lived within a country since Soviet times. 

If people are dissatisfied with their position in society and how the authorities and their neighbours treat them, they naturally leave. Statistics from 1997 to 2014 show that Armenia occupies first place for the percentage of Russian-speakers among all emigrants - 64 per cent. In second place is Kazakhstan, at 54 per cent, followed by Moldova (50 per cent), Kyrgyzstan (44 per cent), Georgia (40 per cent), Tajikistan (36 per cent), Azerbaijan (35-36 per cent), Uzbekistan (32 per cent), Ukraine (less than 32 per cent), Latvia (28 per cent), Estonia (27 per cent), and Lithuania (27 per cent). 

Armenia is named in the report and is the only country in the CIS where discrimination against the Russian-speaking population is fairly great. This discrimination takes place both at the state level and in everyday life. Experts were so shocked by the results of their research on the situation in Armenia that they devoted a large part of their press conference to talking about it. 

Before visiting the country, experts studied its legislation, and once there compared the de jure and de facto. Researchers found that the two matched the most in Azerbaijan and the Baltic states. The similarity between these countries, however, is only relative. In Azerbaijan the language rights of the Russian-speaking population are great, which is reflected in everyday life. In the Baltic states rights are much less impressive, and reality matches those rights. 

There is no such correlation in Armenia, for example. "Why were we shocked about Armenia? Because the official declarations were at about the level of those of Azerbaijan, but the actual situation with language rights is very low. Even in Soviet times Armenia was an ethnically monolithic republic, which destroyed and forced out all other ethnicities and subjugated them to Armenians. Now the situation is truly pitiful. Today Armenia is a de facto single-ethnicity state that keeps a policy of 'If you're not Armenian, please leave our territory," said the president of NGO Acceptare.

The main reason that the Russian-speaking population began to emigrate from Armenia was the adoption of the 1993 law making Armenian a state language. All state schools with classes taught in Russian closed, with the exception of one - in the village of Fioletovo in Lori oblast. In Gyumri, where a Russian military base is located, there is also a Russian school, and local Armenians resort to various schemes to have their children study at it. In Yerevan there is also a private Slavic school, where tuition is ninety dollars a year. That's it - there are no other schools, only classes in which the Russian language is taught. Out of 1410 schools operating in Armenia, only 40 have such Russian classes. However, not all who want to can make it into even those classes. Only ethnic Russians, Russian citizens, refugees, or children from mixed marriages have the right to education in them.

The purity of classrooms is strictly monitored by the Armenian government's State Inspectorate for Lan-guage, which, as the report states, forcibly transfers Armenian children studying in Russian classes into Armenian classes. Russian ambassador to Armenia Anatoliy Dryukov compared the inspectorate's actions regarding language to a medieval inquisition. Some Armenian families cannot get their children into Russian classes after returning from a six- or seven-year stay in Russia simply because their children are Armenian. The frank words of Ara Papanian, head of the centre Modus Vivendi, speak volumes: "Isn't it obvious that a child who grows up with Pushkin's fairy tales and a child who grows up with Tumanyan's fairy tales will be different Armenians?"

I recently heard a telling story on the BBC: to get their child into a Russian class, an Armenian family resorted to a trick - they made a distant relative with Russian citizenship their child's legal guardian. The broadcast said this was not the only case like that. 

The move to ban foreign-language schools in Armenia is made from necessity, asserts Yerevan State University Professor Araik Arutyunyan, who says they will be well-financed and local schools would suffer because of that fact. "Since the government is unable to pay teachers large salaries, all the good professionals will simply go over to foreign schools," he believes. Touching concern for the government, but it harms citizens.

Nevertheless, and likely due to public demand, in 2010 the Armenian Ministry of Education wrote a law providing for the opening of schools with foreign languages as the medium of instruction. Admittedly, under this law only two foreign-language schools, both of them English, have opened in five years. 

Thus there is a paradox, the authors of the report hold. On the one hand, Armenia calls Russia a strategic partner, but on the other hand, it forbids its citizens from getting an education in which Russian is the language of classroom. The result of this ban is natural - according to statistics from the Information Analysis Centre, today only 23 per cent of Armenia's population speaks Russian.

Expert Tatiana Borzova spoke at the press conference about her impressions from travelling in Azerbaijan and Armenia. "As I travelled in Azerbaijan, I studied how to say where I needed to go, how to order a taxi in Azeri. But when I arrived, it turned out that everyone spoke Russian. That came as surprise to me. Thank you very much, Azerbaijan," she said, stressing that her trip to Armenia gave her exactly the opposite impression. "Reading the media, from Armenia I expected, as a minimum, to be met with open arms. When I saw Armenia today, it was a shock for me. In America I didn't feel like I did in Armenia. You won't believe it, but in America I found a Russian-speaking person who told me how to get somewhere. In Armenia I had a big problem with that - I got confused and lost. The attitude was so bad, that when I came back from Armenia I was in a state of shock."

Despite the fact that Armenians call Russia their ally and friend, their attitude toward the Russian language has always left something to be desired, said Fuad Axundov, head of the sector of the Azerbaijani Presi-dent's administration, commenting on the plight of the Russian-speaking population in Armenia. Today in "friendly" Armenia lives the smallest number of ethnically Russian citizens of any former Soviet country - approximately five thousand. In Georgia, whose relations with Russia - to put it lightly - leave much to be desired, the Russian population numbers fifty thousand people, and in the Baltic States, which are members of NATO, have Russian populations totalling approximately one million," said Axundov.

The report on the position of Russian-speaking citizens in countries of the CIS and Baltic states is full of figures - comparative charts, and diagrams, and survey results. 

It also has a prediction - if the leadership of the Russian Federation does not actively support ethnic Russians and interest in the Russian language, in ten years the Russian-speaking diaspora will largely consist of the older generation, and the language of Pushkin and Chekhov will not be understood by most young people.