YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The long-serving rector of Yerevan State University (YSU), Aram Simonyan, stepped down on Thursday after months of pressure from the Armenian government.
Simonyan announced his resignation at a meeting of the top professors of Armenia’s oldest and largest university.
“Tensions around the university are not easing and are on the contrary rising further,” he said in a speech publicized by the YSU administration. “The country’s supreme authorities are alleging that I am clinging to this chair to stay on. That’s ridiculous.”
“Even if I don’t resign today that [resignation] will be engineered through a violation of the law anyway,” he claimed. “I am already aware that they are going to fully change the composition of the [YSU] Board of Trustees so that they can revel in firing me. I will not give them that pleasure.”
Simonyan has been under mounting pressure to step down since last spring’s “velvet revolution” that toppled Armenia’s former government with which he had close political ties. Critics, among them Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, have long accused him of placing YSU under the strong influence of the former ruling Republican Party (HHK).
The 63-year-old historian joined the HHK in 1997, nine years before becoming university rector.
In December, a government body implicated the YSU administration in serious financial irregularities. The Armenian police likewise alleged in February that Simonyan has embezzled YSU funds and engaged in other corrupt practices over the past decade.
Simonyan, who has still not been formally charged with any crime, rejected the allegations as politically motivated. He said that he will not resign before serving out his current term in office in 2020.
The Board of Trustees narrowly failed to sack the rector when it met in late February.
Nevertheless, the government kept up the pressure. Pashinyan declared in March that the government has made a “political decision” to get rid of university heads who “turned the system of higher education into party cells and locked the doors for students.”
Pashinyan earlier accused the YSU administration of preventing students from joining his street protests against the former government launched in April 2018. He charged at the time that YSU has become an HHK “lair.”
Simonyan insisted on Thursday that he has done a largely good job of running the university. “There have been shortcomings but I have tried to do whatever I can,” he said.
Simonyan also denounced as a “national disgrace” government officials’ failure to attend last week’s events to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of YSU.