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Armenian Parliament Gives Initial Approval To Foreign-Language Bill

Armenians protest in Yerevan against the legislation that would allow foreign-language schools to operate.
Armenians protest in Yerevan against the legislation that would allow foreign-language schools to operate.
YEREVAN -- The Armenian parliament has given preliminary approval to controversial amendments that would allow for foreign-language schools in the country, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The National Assembly adopted the legislation on first reading by 71 to 13 votes, with one abstention, despite continuing protests outside the parliament by the most vocal opponents of the measure.

A leader of the assembly's progovernment majority indicated that officials will not rush to have the bill adopted in the second and final reading and are ready to make additional changes to it.

Galust Sahakian, a senior deputy from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL that the final parliamentary debates on the issue will not take place before the autumn.

"The key thing is not to harm our native language and the linguistic mentality of Armenian children, but at the same time to make sure we can integrate into the world's educational systems," said Sahakian.

The government has already twice watered down amendments to laws on public education and language in the face of fierce criticism from opposition groups, prominent intellectuals, and other public figures who regard them as a serious threat to the Armenian language, the country's sole official language.

The current version of the bill allows only two full-fledged foreign-language schools in the country, which must be privately owned.

Despite these and other restrictions, the parliament's two opposition factions -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun Party -- voted against the bill.

Dashnaktsutyun's Artsvik Minasian said the current language law, which upholds Armenian's dominant status, must be kept unchanged for "national security" considerations.

Sahakian suggested that the government might accept such a compromise.

Meanwhile, about 100 people demonstrating outside the parliament building reacted angrily to today's vote.

Armen Hovannisian, a leader of a group that organized the protest, brushed aside the changes made in the legislative package and vowed to continue to campaign against it.

"In Armenia, education for Armenians must be only in Armenian," he told RFE/RL.