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Russia 'Concerned' About Armenian Protests Of Foreign-Language Schools

Nikolay Ryzhkov (left) at a news conference in Yerevan on November 11.
Nikolay Ryzhkov (left) at a news conference in Yerevan on November 11.
YEREVAN -- A senior Russian parliament deputy says Moscow is concerned about vehement protests in Armenia against a government bill allowing foreign-language schools, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Nikolay Ryzhkov, a co-chairman of a Russian-Armenian commission on interparliamentary cooperation and Duma deputy, said on November 11 that there is a sense in Russia that the protests are primarily directed against the Russian language. He said the Russian language should be in greater use in Armenia not least because of the existence of a large Armenian community in Russia.

"More than one generation of Armenians live in our country, and I think one should value the language they speak," Ryzhkov told journalists.

The controversial bill amending two Armenian laws met fierce resistance from opposition and civic groups as well as prominent public figures after being unveiled by the government in May. Critics say it would jeopardize the constitutionally guaranteed status of Armenian as the country's sole official language.

The outcry led the government to water down the proposed amendments before they were passed by parliament in June. In particular, the government agreed to restrict to two the number of foreign-language private schools that would be allowed to operate in the country.

The existing version of the bill also stipulates that up to nine foreign-language high schools can be opened elsewhere in Armenia in accordance with intergovernmental agreements signed on a case-by-case basis. But the changes did not satisfy critics who have vowed further actions against the legislation.

Ryzhkov, who served as the Soviet Union's prime minister from 1985-1990, spoke after a regular session of the interparliamentary commission in Yerevan. He said the commission agreed to discuss the issue at its next meeting to be held in Russia in April.

The Armenian co-chairman of the Russian-Armenian commission, Aram Safarian, described the bill as "very important."

"Our Armenian and Russian [commission] members agreed that the 200-year-old tradition of speaking Russian in Armenia...should not be forgotten," he said.

The two men and other members of the commission met with President Serzh Sarkisian earlier on November 11. Sarkisian was quoted by his office as telling them that a Russian-Armenian "strategic partnership" is successfully developing.

"Armenia appreciates and treats its friends with gratitude," Sarkisian said before awarding a medal of honor to Konstantin Zatulin, a senior Duma member who has long championed close ties between the two countries.

Ryzhkov, 81, has also been regarded as a pro-Armenian figure since personally coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts in Armenia's northern regions devastated by a 1988 earthquake. He was given Armenia's highest state award, the title of "national hero," two years ago.