No Classes Today in Pyunik; Parents Protest Government Decision to Close Village School
Instead of presenting their new teachers with flowers today, the first day of the new school year, first graders in the Kotayk village of Pyunik, escorted by their parents, gathered in the village square to protest an August 24 government decision that will close the school in two months and have the pupils attend classes in the the neighboring village of Artavaz.
Parents in Pyunik say that closing the village school is synonymous with closing the village.
Administratively, Pyunik (population 450) is specified as a part of the larger Artavaz community. Their combined population is 1,116. The two are populated by Armenians who fled Azerbaijan in the late 1980s.
There are nine 1st graders in Pyunik this year, and residents say their numbers are increasing.
Residents are fearful that the closing of the school will result in people leaving Pyunik. They also point out that kids will have to travel three kilometers to the school in Artavaz, often on foot, due to the lack of reliable transportation.
“Imagine what the children will have to go through in the winter, with snow on the ground,” said Irina Logvenova, a mother of four. Three of her children attend school; one is in the first grade.
“They all end at different times of the day. How will I manage picking them up? No parent will let their child attend that school. We’ll hold classes in the schoolyard until the government realizes something must be done,” Logvenova said.
Pyunik resident Lousineh Vardanyan said that the government really threw cold water on the village’s September 1 festivities.
“The government has decided to darken our children’s days. Is this how they raise the education level? When it snows, the streets aren’t cleaned for days. Those with a car can get around. Those who don’t stay home. How will a six-year-old get to that other school every day?” Vardanyan asks.
Pyunik parents also believe their school is in better shape than the one in Artavaz.
Principal Gagik Marabyan and the teachers waited patiently inside, but none of their pupils ever entered the building.
Marabyan said that he couldn’t participate in the protest in his capacity as principal. He wasn’t aware that as principal, he was obligated to convene a meeting and sit down with parents to discuss the problem, and to then contact the provincial governor.
It appears that the provincial government was aware that parents will planning to boycott the school, since it sent a bulletin to Marabyan yesterday.
Marabyan believes the protest is ill-timed and that parents should have sent their children to school today.
He said that parents should have waited a month to see if the government was willing to review its decision. The principal is optimistic that it will.
Resident Yervand Naltakyan employed a bit of satire to describe how the village has been mistreated by the central government.
“Tigran Sargsyan’s government did us a favor when he gave some of our lands to a Saudi sheikh in an eminent domain deal. Today, Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan does us a favor by closing the school. It’s an education, a spiritual center. Does optimization mean closing schools? It’s sacrilege.”
Artavaz School Principal Borik Kondjoryan told Hetq that his school has an enrollment of 70, and the one in Pyunik, 42. He says that conditions in the two are similar. He says that argument of parents in Pyunik that the roads are closed for days due to the snow isn’t correct, and that there was only one day last winter when he couldn’t drive his car from Hrazdan to Artavaz. Kondjoryan says that there are even teachers who travel every day from Hrazdan to Artavaz.
As the day wore on, police appeared on the scene. Soon after, Kotayk Deputy Provincial Governor Moushegh Manasyan arrived and said he wanted to hear the concerns of parents. He refrained from expressing any opinion on the matter.
When we asked Artavaz Mayor Rem Hovhannisyan how much money is spent on cleaning roads during the winter, he replied, 100,000 AM.
Deputy Provincial Governor Moushegh Manasyan told Hetq that all school in smaller villages are set to merge.
Currently, the central government allocates 17million AMD yearly to keep it running. Parents say they can raise the amount from benefactors if need be; just to keep the school from closing.
Pyunik residents say that will march on the Government Building in Yerevan if the decision to close the school isn’t revised, and will hand over the flowers the children brought to school today to Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Minister of Education Levon Mkrtchyan.
Until then, parents will keep their children at home.