Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Russian Language and Thus Russians Becoming ‘Foreign’ in Armenia, Aksyonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – The announcement by Armenian Education Minister Levon Mkrtchyan that from now on, the Russian language will be treated as a foreign language not only means that there is no chance it will ever be the second state language there as Moscow wants but also that Armenians now “view Russians foreigners,” a Moscow commentator says.

            That is the judgment of Sergey Aksyonov, a commentator for Svobodnaya pressa, and it suggests an even more radical and unexpected development is taking place in Armenia than the much-more-commented upon change in the status of the Russian language in Ukraine (

            Mkrtchayn stressed that “the only state language in Armenia is Armenian because we are an independent and sovereign state. This is axiomatic. And all other languages are foreign.”  That doesn’t mean Russian won’t be studied in schools: At present, it is studied from the second class just as English is studied from the third.

            A major problem, the Armenian minister said, is that there are not enough qualified instructors in Russian in Armenia anymore. Consequently, even though the older generation is almost entirely bilingual in Armenian and Russian, the younger generation often is more likely to know English than Russian.

            In some ways, Moscow brought this problem on itself by insisting rather heavy-handedly on having Yerevan adopt Russian as a second state language. Armenians were offended and now have reacted.  But their reaction, Russian experts say, does not mean that the Russian language and Russians more generally don’t have a future in Armenia, only that more work is needed.

            Yerevan’s readiness to declare Russian a foreign language, however, does suggest that Armenia like the other former Soviet republics is gradually moving away from Moscow’s orbit, something that Russian pressure on even its closest allies in the past may be accelerating even faster than its aggression against others. 

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