Armenians must do it for themselves

November 21, 1997

EUROPE. Higher education and scholarly culture in Armenia needs a massive reconstruction effort if it is to escape from its post-Soviet crisis, Catholicos Karekin I, the head of the Armenian church told the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Lords last week.

He called for a "work-fare" scheme for Armenian scholars who are struggling to continue with their careers instead of emigrating, abandoning their profession, or waiting for something to happen.

The Armenian language and culture, the Catholicos said, was one of the three factors that had enabled the Armenians, in spite of centuries of foreign oppression, to survive and to "live creatively".

The other two were the "ancient but not archaic" Armenian church, and the mountainous landscape, which is ideal for resistance fighting.

But the post-Soviet economic and social upheavals have meant that "scholars are no longer valued as they used to be". Moreover, newly independent Armenia has had to cope with even more economic difficulties than the other post-Soviet states. Scholars and academics are trying to exist on salaries that inflation has rendered "insignificant", and there is no money to publish scholarly works.

The Catholicos, who studied at Oxford in the late 1950s, is adamant that charitable handouts are not the solution. Two sorts of aid would be appropriate, he suggested: sponsors should be sought to finance the publication of individual scholarly works, and a fund should be established to top up the state salaries of those scholars who are genuinely still trying to work.

Many of the organisations assisting scholarly restructuring in the post-Soviet lands, such as the Know-How fund, he observed, concentrate on science and technology.

"I should like to ask them to be concerned also with the cultural and scholarly spheres of life", he said.

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