YEREVAN — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday publicly demanded the resignation of the rectors of state-run universities who he said are linked to Armenia’s former leadership.
“Those rectors who turned the system of higher education into party cells, those rectors who locked the doors for students have nothing to do in the new Armenia,” Pashinyan told a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “This is my very explicit position and we must not be afraid of expressing that position.”
“Let them cling to their doors, desks and armchairs, but they have nothing to do in the new Armenia. Let them find other jobs, other tasks, other missions,” he said.
Pashinyan stressed that he and his government have made a “political decision” to get rid of such rectors. “Let nobody think or hope that we will forget what we rallied for [in April-May 2018,]” he added.
The remarks seemed primarily addressed to Aram Simonian, the long-serving rector of Yerevan State University (YSU) who remains affiliated with former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Simonian has been under mounting pressure to step down since last spring’s “velvet revolution” which brought Pashinyan to power. In December, a government body implicated the YSU administration in serious financial irregularities. The Armenian police likewise alleged last month that Simonian has embezzled YSU funds and engaged in other corrupt practices over the past decade.
Simonian, who has still not been formally charged with any crime, denies the allegations as politically motivated. He has said that he will not resign before serving out his current term in office in 2020.
YSU’s Board of Trustees narrowly failed to sack the 63-year-old rector when it met on February 28. Half of its 32 members are appointed by the government. The other board members are chosen by the YSU faculty and students.
An HHK member since 1997, Simonian has long been accused by his detractors of suppressing student activism and placing YSU under the strong influence of the former ruling party.
Pashinyan personally accused the university administration of preventing YSU students from joining his street protests against Sarkisian shortly after launching them in April 2018. He charged at the time that YSU has become an HHK “lair.”
Simonian on Monday declined to comment on Pashinyan’s latest remarks, arguing that the prime minister did not name names. “He may or may have not referred to me,” the YSU head told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I can’t tell.”