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Student anti-corruption protest raises eyebrows

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Conversation in Yerevan was ablaze this week with talk of an anti-corruption protest that bore all the hall-marks of a coloured revolutionary youth movement at work. On the walls and other structures close to many universities and colleges, the names and photographs of lecturers or other administrative staff alleged to be on the take were posted and accused of taking bribes.

However, despite ostensibly appearing to be a grass-roots campaign to fight corruption in the education sector, those responsible for the action were not rebellious young students linked to the political opposition, but members of Miasin, a pro-government youth movement modeled on the pro-Putin Nashi in Russia. Miasin is believed to be controlled by the Armenian presidential spokesperson, Samuel Farmanyan. 

A statement on the organization's web site explained why the action was being staged.

The time has come for the students themselves to work for the establishment of the rule of law in the schools. Corruption in the education system merely serves to spawn similar practices in other sectors since it is the educational system that is churning out the corrupt leaders of tomorrow.

Nevertheless, Miasin had until now largely been considered a joke. Its first actions staged last summer against smoking were seen as a way to deflect the attention of young Armenians away from pro-opposition youth movements such as Hima and more neutral progressive groups such as Henq. Its later action of staging a rock concert with free beer handed out to passer-bys was seen as an attempt to confront overnight anti-government strikers camped out opposite.

Now, questions are being raised about the purpose of Miasin's most recent action. Certainly, corruption remains a huge problem in the Armenian education sector with one dean even being shot in uncertain circumstances in recent years, but nobody is sure if the anti-corruption activity is genuine or not. Other youth groups, usually restricted in their activities on-campus, have used the issue to mobilize disenchanted youth in the past.

Is Miasin simply trying to exploit the problem of corruption in Yerevan's universities and campuses, or does it represent a genuine attempt to tackle the problem with the tacit approval of the authorities? Time will tell, but protests initiated by other student groups have resulted in pressure from police, interrogation by the National Security Service, and threats of explusion.

The police, which react harshly to similar actions by opposition groups, have not questioned any of those activists so far. This fact prompted speculation that they were instructed not to stop the leaflet distribution. 

But Major-General Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police, brushed aside such suggestions. “We can not support or participate in such actions,” he said. “We certainly do not agree with that view. If people have any evidence [of corruption] they can apply to the police.” 

Nazarian argued that the police can not investigate the legality of the Miasin action without receiving a written complaint from individuals or organizations targeted by the youth group supporting President Serzh Sarkisian. “I am told that Yerevan State University is preparing to lodge a formal complaint,” he told a news conference. “The police will certainly deal with that fact.” link

Photo: Miasin anti-smoking demonstration, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008



Onnik Krikorian | March 13, 2009 1:01 PM | Reply

An interesting update:


On March 13, the guard of the Yerevan State Linguistic University after V.Bryusov beat cruelly the photo-reporter Gagik Shamshyan who tried to take pictures of the protest organized by the students. According to the information we got, the protest of the students of the University after Bryusov was their response to the action organized by Miasin movement who stuck pictures of corrupt professors near the universities of Yerevan. When the photo reporter tried to enter the university the guard of the university did not let him to, a quarrel occurred and the photo reporter was beaten severely afterwards. Now the latter has been hospitalized and now is in the reanimation department of a hospital.

Margarita Aghasyan | March 14, 2009 4:44 AM | Reply

That is very sad, but it should be expected...It's not a surprise, that the guardians in Armenia take advantage of their position.
But the student's idea is GREAT!!! When I was studying in an Armenian University I was dreaming about something like this, but never had enough courage and supportive friend to manage it:(..

Onnik Krikorian | March 14, 2009 1:35 PM | Reply

Margarita, there's just one problem. We don't know if the protest action is genuine. For example, at Brussov University yesterday, students protested against the actions of Miasin and rejected claims that the lecturers identified as corrupt there, were taking money.

One civil society activist who lectures at Brussov also rejects Miasin's claims against those lecturers. Meanwhile, the foreign head of an international organization says that at least one of those lecturers identified at YSU actually has a good reputation.

Both he and one diplomatic body in Yerevan also consider that the purpose of Miasin's action is unclear. One lecturer is reportedly taking legal action against the organization. Therefore, until proof of corruption is presented, it remains to be seen whether the claims are valid.

From what I'm hearing, nothing is clear apart from the political origins of the group. Anything else is merely speculation. Don't know. Let's see.

barev | March 14, 2009 10:28 PM | Reply

Thanks for the report Onnik.

My girlfriend is at Brussov, and she also told me that the list of professors wasn't genuine. While there might have been some correct hits, the most notably corrupted faculty wasn't in the list and some who are highly regarded as being honest (at least among the people she knows), made the list.

At first, when I heard about this, I was excited about the issue, but now it looks much less like an anti-corruption move and much more like a dubious political game.

Onnik Krikorian | March 15, 2009 10:20 AM | Reply

Yes, and another journalist yesterday told me there were some correct hits at Brussov as well. So, we're now going to have to see what happens next. Who is guilty and who is not, but still the motivation behind Miasin's actions are not convincing many people. Indeed, most say the same thing. There were others they chose not to target. As I said, interesting action, but now it remains to be seen who is guilty and who is not. I'd also add that if the police are not calling in Miasin guys for questioning, they shouldn't touch other youth groups who engage in actions as well.

bare | March 16, 2009 10:10 PM | Reply

Have there been any measure taken against those who beat Gagik Shamshyan? Has there at least been a police report? I heard even the pro-rektor was present and while he didn't participate, nevertheless he encouraged the guards during the beating.

Onnik Krikorian | March 24, 2009 4:34 PM | Reply

EurasiaNet has just published an article on the Miasin campaign and again, it doesn't answer many of the questions most people are asking. That is, we still don't know what the motivation for this campaign is.

A photo campaign launched by the pro-government youth group Miasin (Together) has touched off a debate in Armenia about the nature of justice. Heightening passions on both sides of the question is the fact that the debate revolves around one of the country’s most pervasive social ills -- corruption.


Miasin claims that it came up with the list of professors based on an anonymous survey held at Yerevan State University, Yerevan State Pedagogical University, Yerevan State Economics University, and the Medical Institute. In an interview with EurasiaNet, however, Hakobian could not recall key survey details, such as how many people participated in the survey.


Although Miasin’s anti-corruption efforts may not have been coordinated with the government, available evidence supports the impression that top officials were aware of Miasin’s intent to wage an aggressive campaign.

The youth movement first appeared last spring, as a counterbalance to the pro-opposition group Hima (Now), which organized demonstrations after the disputed 2008 presidential election. [For background, see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In a clear show of support, President Serzh Sargsyan turned up at Miasin’s one-year anniversary celebration on February 21.


For now, most professors featured in Miasin’s photo line-ups remain silent. In an interview with EurasiaNet, one of the accused, Yerevan State University Law Faculty Dean Gagik Ghazinian, said he has no plans to sue for libel. "The first reason is that I don’t want speculation about my name again. I don’t want to become a participant in that show again, and, secondly, I am not sure the court will be unbiased," Ghazinian said. "Obviously, this movement has serious leverage."

Political scientist Karen Simonian seconds that observation. Simonian, who is not related to Yerevan State University Rector Aram Simonian, attributes the silence of the accused professors down to shock. "The blow came from such an unexpected direction that they don’t know how powerful the force is standing behind it and how far it can go," Simonian said. link

Ani | March 24, 2009 7:54 PM | Reply

Since this invites conjecture, I may as well plunge in. Here are a few words that are going through my head about this action: “inoculation,” “dilution,” “sham,” and “farce.”

The action took as its subject a real problem in Armenia, bribery and corruption in the Armenian educational system (in fact, no different than other sections of Armenian society). By Miasum staging this action, but then doing a deliberately inept job by vague and some clearly unfounded accusations, it has camouflaged and made more difficult to prove any legitimate claims, whether of those pictured or of other professors. By sowing confusion, it will therefore delay or prevent real changes from taking place. Should other youth groups like Hima take up this cause, even with better-supported accusations, they will be seen in the shadow of this initial fake action and their protest will be ignored.

Furthermore, the regime’s hope is that poorly informed citizens will not be able to distinguish between the sham pro-government “protest” group and the genuine opposition groups, and will simply shrug their collective shoulders whenever they see something going on after this spectacular and well-publicized anti-bribery “protest” deflates into nothing. It’s especially telling that Serzh Sargsyan and Arthur Baghdasarian hold official positions at universities—if they had any interest in preventing bribes, what’s stopping them?

What do you think?