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Armenia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Language was adopted on 3 March 1993, under which the state language of the Republic of Armenia is Armenian and the official language is literary Armenian. The second language is Russian, which the majority of the population still speak, though the number of people having a good command of Russian has significantly decreased. Among the new generation, the number of people with knowledge of other foreign languages, particularly English, French and German, is gradually increasing.

The Language State Inspectorate, attached to the Ministry of Science and Education, manages the language policy, decides the criteria and controls the execution of the Language Law.

Compared with the Soviet period, the usage of the Russian language has noticeably declined, although Russian is still taught in secondary and higher education institutions, the Russian press and literature is published, Russian radio programmes are broadcast, and some private TV channels broadcast Russian-speaking films without Armenian subtitles. In Armenia, which is described as being a language homogenous country, many foreign language papers and magazines are published, such as the Russian "Respublica Armenia", "Urartu", "Golos Armenii", "Novoye Vremya", Delovoy Express, and other newspapers, "Literaturnaya Armenia", "Yerevan", "Afisha", "Armyanka" magazines, Yazidi "Lalesh", "Ezdikhana" ("The voice of Yazidis" in Armenian), Kurdish "Rya Taza" (New way), "Mijagetq" (Armenian-Kurdish), Ukrainian "Dnipro", "Magen David" ("The star of David" in Russian) of the Jewish community and the Greek "Byzantine inheritance".

Currently, there are no major issues in Armenia relating to foreign languages and other cultures. During the Soviet period and, especially, following 1988 there was a struggle against the use of the Russian language although, following independence, this struggle ceased (at present, the Russian press in Armenia is even stronger than it was during Soviet years). Besides the English language, a number of other foreign languages are taught in the institutes of higher education and the centres operate for teaching French, Spanish, German and Italian, and cultural unions operate.

The existing legislation does not prohibit the language usage of minorities; the state language supremacy is in harmony with the language preservation of national minorities, the international right of mutual respect towards all cultures and the language-political norms of the European Union. In general, each non-Armenian resident of Armenia freely enjoys the entire international and national rights provided for national minorities, but the state offers additional financial support only to the national minorities that meet certain guidelines. These guidelines are developed on the basis of the main principle that if a national minority in any settlement is 15% or more of the population and, if in any small settlement with a population of 2 000 people, the national minority is represented by at least 300 people, then this minority will receive financial support from the state budget to realise their educational, identity protection and other programmes. In Armenia, the Russian, Yazidi and Assyrian ethnic communities meet these guidelines.

In early 2010, an attempt to change the language related legislation was made by the Ministry of Education. The new draft Law on Language addresses the legal justification for opening secondary schools with teaching in foreign languages. The draft Law faced unexpectedly negative reaction of the intellectual circles of society and its discussion process is currently being accompanied by public protests and actions largely advertised in the electronic social networks and mass media. The Armenian civil society is mostly preoccupied by the possible fast growth in number of schools with teaching in foreign languages, which, in turn, will threaten development and status of the Armenian-language schools. It seems to recall a situation of the Soviet times, when the Russian-language schools were much more prestigious and better maintained by the authorities than the Armenian-language ones. Opening foreign-language schools would mean damaging national culture and identity. The initiative group fighting the draft Law refers the Constitution, which declares Armenian the only official language of Armenia, and therefore the only allowed language of secondary education. Public debates on this issue are still in progress.

Chapter published: 22-05-2015

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