Free, Independent Students from Now On…Not Universities, Though

Around the same time the movement against Serzh Sargsyan’s becoming prime minister after a decade of rule started to gain momentum in Armenia, news came about the death of renowned director Miloš Forman. I remembered a scene from his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the main character, Randle, attempts to lift a water fountain; he fails, but says “At least I tried.” This metaphor doesn’t highlight Randle’s failure, but is rather an expression of non-conformism, the kind that Armenian students have been displaying over the last few days.

Not being taught the essence of citizenship and living under the invisible, but ironclad dome of propaganda that threatens with war in any case of civic awakening and presents the current government as the only unwavering power that can sustain the peace, it must be difficult to find the consciousness to disobey.

Protesters occupying state buildings. Photo by Tatevik Avetisyan

The first organized student movement was not long ago — in November — against the draft law abolishing military deferment. The students did not reach their desired outcome but they formed a group that continued to realize new strategies of initiating change around them. A group of students launched a project called Restart. Their plan was to address numerous major and minor problems of the Yerevan State University one at a time; the first rally was around the lack of toilet paper and similar necessities in YSU restrooms despite their large annual budget; a lot of people even donated toilet paper.

During the ongoing protests against the shift of Serzh Sargsyan to the post of the prime minister, students quickly mobilized and joined the movement, already having the experience and courage. They marched around all state universities and convinced more students to join the strike. Many AUA students also boycotted classes and joined the demonstrations.

Putting aside the probable outcomes of the protests, the massive number of students participating has become a significant motivation for all to speak up about their dissatisfaction and join the wave of disobedience.

Many universities closed their doors, locking their students inside the building to prevent them from participating in the strike. This was not the case at the American University of Armenia, however, another nuance strongly worried students. On April 16, students received a message from the administration of the University, urging students to attend the classes with no excuses regarding the closed streets. The main reason for the bewilderment was the fact that AUA is believed to educate responsible young citizens and promote civic values. Many instructors welcomed the decision of AUA students to join the strikes and marked their absences excused. Some even joined the demonstrations themselves.  

The university, without a doubt, has to keep an unbiased stance. Still, students, raising their dissatisfaction on social media, expected more understanding on its part. In a follow-up message, the university administration stated that if a student decided not to attend classes due to the unsafe situation on the streets, they could inform their instructors about it.

Serzh Sargsyan has now been elected as prime minister but the strikes continue; students, next to the older and younger generations protest and voice their discontent with the current government. Although a specific number has not been announced, the protest on April 17 has been reported to have gathered tens of thousands of people. Regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day, we will know that at least we tried; we will get stronger and wiser and try again.

 

Christina Soloyan

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