Hard Lesson: YSU lecturer dismissed for anti-government views

22.06.2007 at 17:36 Оставьте комментарий

Lecturer at Yerevan State University’s Chair of Social-Economic Geography Sasun Saribekyan was removed from his job for criticizing the current policy of Armenia’s authorities during his lectures and arranging a students’ meeting with oppositionist Aram Karapetyan.

Saribekyan, 33, has been working at YSU for nine years, and before being fired he had taught seven subjects, including geopolitics at the Faculty of History as well as economic geography and political  geography at the Faculties of Economics and Geography.

A survey among students shows he is among lecturers with the highest rating.

In October the post-graduate degree holder Saribekyan was elected in the position of an associate professor by the academic council of the Faculty of Geography unanimously. Five months later, on March 15, the Rector ordered to annul the lecturer’s contract, citing his failure to fulfill his duties.

A written complaint of second-year students of the Faculty of Economics, condemning Saribekyan’s views, served as a ground for the order. However, after questioning some of the students who signed the letter, it became clear that the letter does not express their opinion; they disagreed with the contents and signed not guided by their consciousness, and some others were not even his students.

Other grounding was the Economics Faculty Dean’s report based on the complaint, and the conclusion made by the commission called in this connection.

The students complaint says that not doubting Saribekyan’s professional skills, he uses a considerable part of his classes putting forward questions unrelated to his subject and holding discussions aimed at slandering both the country and the university, criticizing the country’s current situation, and forming a pessimistic attitude to the future.

The complaint also says that by promising an easy final test Saribekyan encourages his students to stay after classes and take part in seminars in geopolitics that pursue goals they can’t understand: “Our discontent reached its culmination when on February 21, not the day of his class, Saribekyan invited us to take part in a ‘conference’ held at Marriot-Armenia Hotel, which turned out to be the New Times party’s political action lead by the party leader Aram Karapetyan. In fact, unconsciously we got involved in the political field.”

The conclusion made by the university officials based on the complaint has the same handwriting. It says that Saribekyan during his classes used to analyze the RA state political system, propagated distrust to this or that political force, tried to prove that Armenia is leading an irrational policy, spurred the formation of pessimistic mentality and attitude to the future.

Having met six students who signed the letter of complaint, ArmeniaNow found out that two of them were not his students at all, and the other four disagreed with the contents but, as they say, sighed out of friendly solidarity.

One of the signing students, who refused to disclose her name in public, says that it’s a lie that Saribekyan promised an easy test in case students would participate in seminars outside class, and that there wasn’t a conversation like that at all.

The seminar mentioned in the letter, in reality were his lectures in geopolitics, which proved interesting enough that students from other faculties took part also.

“The way he talked about politics was very interesting, and he wasn’t telling us what to do, but was simply telling us his opinion,” says the student. “He was a very good lecturer. He was giving the copies of his lectures to us, so that it would be easier for us to learn them. No other lecturer does so.”

Anna Mikayelyan says she has nothing against Saribekyan but signed the letter because other students did: “Even if I didn’t sign, he’d be fired.”

Sona Hakobyan says that Saribekyan is a very good lecturer, and since she hadn’t read the letter properly till the end, she can’t say whether she agrees or not.

Another student, who didn’t want to disclose her name, said that she had attended Saribekyan’s lecture only once, everybody was interested in what he was saying and he conducted a normal class, as for the letter, she absolutely disagrees with it, but signed anyway.

The head of the student council of the faculty Karlen Khachatryan and a council member Gevorg Ghukasyan, who signed the letter, admitted that not once had they attended Saribekyan’s lectures and were unable to ground why they had signed the letter.

The outcome has caused speculation that Saribekyan was fired for reasons that don’t concern his classroom performance. Saribekyan says he did speak about Armenia’s current policy, using the necessity to solve the country’s economic problems as an example to explain the material.

He says that after classes, outside the University building he had planned meetings with different politicians students preferred, with different political orientation on “Political system”, “The geopolitical significance of the Karabakh conflict” and similar topics, but says he was granted permission by the head of the Bachelor’s Department of the University.

In that framework the first meeting, in February, was at the Marriot-Armenia Hotel with Aram Karapetyan, the subject of discussion being “Political system and political regime”, and only 6-7 students were present from the Faculty of Economics.

“The goal of the meeting was not propaganda, but was of scientific-cognitive character. And even if it had a propagating purpose, it would not be a danger as Armenia is a democratic country,” he says.

One of the students said that only thing mentioned in the letter is close to reality, as Saribekyan once said something against the dean, but he can’t remember what.

Saribekyan says he once said he had his job against the dean’s will. He had a conflict with the administration of the Faculty of Economics. According to Saribekyan, the Dean Hayk Sargsyan had always tried to force him to pass students (meaning during tests at the end of terms) who had no knowledge, and he refused.

“He even threatened me saying if I don’t pass some student he will take the economic geography out of the curriculum,” says Saribekyan. “I never accept any mediation, but work with each student individually to help them pass the exam.”

Dean Sargsyan denies Saribekyan’s accusation, however admits he has had conflicts with him connected to examinations, which, in his opinion, were dragged too long by Saribekyan.

“He made some improper statements saying the country is buried in corruption from top to bottom,” he says.

Someone well informed about the University affairs says that mediation for grades from the administration for those students who are not prepared for exams is a common thing and it’s hard to find a lecturer/teacher who would not obey the order.

Saribekyan had conflicts also at the faculty of geography and had a quarrel with lecturers over their taking bribes.

One lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Saribekyan, earning his incomes in an honest way, gets angry when he sees that lecturers with a lower intellectual level than his lead a much better life by taking bribes.

Student at the Faculty of Geography Tatevik Harutyunyan says that Saribekyan was an excellent lecturer, was a rare incorrupt lecturer in the university where, she says, corruption looms large. She says that although the university is considered to be an apolitical structure and that Saribekyan was fired for his political propaganda, in reality often lecturers make propaganda to the class during lessons in favor of the ruling party. Tatevik is one of the 191 students at the faculty of geography who sent a letter to the rector for Saribekyan to be reinstated in his job. It is said in the letter that Saribekyan spreads among students self-criticism, ability to think, explains the parts of the material that are difficult to access, does not deflect from the subject of the lesson, is one of the leading figures at the school of geographical studies.

Vice-Dean of the faculty of economics, Harutyun Marzpanyan, says that he did not want to remove Saribekyan and that the National Security Service had a role in his removal.

Dean of the faculty of geography Ashot Khoyetsyan said that he does not exclude the participation of the National Security Service in Saribekyan’s removal and that University Rector Aram Simonyan had said to him that this case was outside his and the dean’s competence (the rector was not in town during these days).

It is said in the report of Dean of the Department of Economics Hayk Sargsyan based on the complaint of students that Saribekyan had violated their constitutional rights, but it is not said how. Sargsyan himself says it is not correct to write that Saribekyan had “violated constitutional rights”.

A parallel is drawn between the expression “violation of the constitutional right” and the department for the protection of constitutional order that opened at the National Security Service last year and it is supposed that the decision on Saribekyan’s removal was dictated from there.

From the times of the Soviet Union till today the NSS (KGB) has had a curator for every institution of higher education as well as a network of informers through whom they learned about political sentiments. They were also informed about Saribekyan’s lecturers.

“This case reminds of the early soviet times when intellectuals faced total persecution and often the KGB used students against lecturers,” says Armenia Helsinki Committee Chairman Avetik Ishkhanyan. “The Soviet expressions have changed, in the past they were accused of anti-Soviet propaganda, now of anti-constitutionality, but the phenomenon is the same – intolerance towards dissidence.”

Saribekyan’s petition to the court to reinstate him was refused. He has now appealed to the Court of Appeal.



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