Open Letter To The Public Council



from DILIJAN International School Project initiators

Dear members of the Public Council,

In light of the public debate surrounding the introduction of
amendments to the “Language Law” and educational system, we – the
initiators of the DILIJAN International School project, as well
as the members of the Board of Trustees, have heard from community
representatives with words of both support and rebuke regarding the
project to create the DILIJAN International School. We place a high
value on civil society, and respect its opinion, so we write to you
as to the voice of public opinion.

The issue pertaining to changing the “Language Law” is very important
and affects the interests of all the republic’s citizens, although,
in our opinion, discussing this law can provide an impetus to a deeper
discussion about Armenia’s future and its place in the world. Armenia
and the Armenian nation in general have several questions to answer
in order to determine the model of its future development. Does the
nation want to thrive and develop, or simply to survive? Does Armenia
want to actively engage global processes, or to remain as an isolated
state with its own laws and rules pertaining exclusively to Armenia
and paying no attention to events happening beyond its boundaries?

Both models of the country’s development have the right to exist.

However, the selection between these models must be made deliberately.

It is also necessary to understand that the choice made by the nation
entails certain consequences, both positive and negative.

Understanding the importance of this topic, back in 2000 a group of
businessmen of Armenian origin, residing and working in Armenia as
well as in other countries, initiated the project “Armenia 2020,”
attracting for its realization both world-caliber consultants
and prominent independent experts from different countries. Their
efforts yielded in 2005 several draft scenarios of Armenia’s possible
development for the coming twenty years, an expert report on the
country’s social-economic condition, and a description of the most
promising sectors of its economy requiring modernization or creation.

These materials were made available to the general public.

In 2007 the National Competitiveness Fund of Armenia (NCFA)
was created by the Government of Armenia to oversee far-reaching
state-private partnership projects, its members including Armenian
government officials, businessmen from the Armenian Diaspora, and
representatives of international financial institutes. In addition,
many participants in the Armenia 2020 project used its results to
begin realization of private initiatives of different kinds and sizes
on Armenian soil as well as abroad.

Here are just a few of them:

~U Tatev Revival Project with participation by the government, church
and private capital. The project includes restoration of the monastery
and reinstating monastic life, rebuilding the hotel complex to attract
tourists, as well as building an aerial cableway. The opening of the
aerial cableway will take place in October 2010. The project should
be fully completed by 2016.

~U “Yerevan” magazine began publication in Russian and English in 2005.

An Armenian and French language version of the magazine is planned
for 2011.

~U Help was rendered in creating a religious-cultural-educational
Armenian center in Moscow. Completion is targeted for 2011.

~U Support was lent to “Perspectives XXI – Music International
Festival” for the performers’ organization in Armenia of classical
music stars Valery Gergiev, Yuri Bashmet, Krzysztof Penderecki and
other world-famous performers and conductors.

~U Since 2007, each year 10-12 young artists from Armenia receive
grants and financial support for their concert tours.

~U Initiation of the DILIJAN International School.

Since the last project has elicited the greatest amount of questions
and commentaries, we will speak about it in greater detail.

DILIJAN International School is a private philanthropic project
involving no state funding. Planned investments in the project exceed
$60 million, which does not include money from the fund to support
talented children from impoverished families. The term “philanthropic”
means the investors will not earn any profit, nor do they intend to
return the money they have invested in the project. We succeeded in
assembling an authoritative Board of Trustees consisting of famous and
respected people who are ready to assist in implementing the project.

DILIJAN International School is an international-caliber boarding
school for children from different countries. By 2020, plans call for
total enrollment of 600 children aged 13 to 18, about 200 of whom will
be citizens of Armenia. It should be noted that approximately 80% of
the students from Armenia will study for free under scholarships from
charity organizations or individuals. As for the school in general,
during the first year of operations we aim for scholarships to comprise
60% of enrollment – gifted children from across the world.

The availability of scholarships allows us to accept talented children
regardless of their parents’ wealth and position in society. This
is principally important for us, as our school isn’t elitist in the
customary sense of the word, but in the distorted one. The elitism
of our students is determined by their intellectual abilities but
not their parents’ prosperity.

Upon completion of the school, its students will be issued an
International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. As of today, this is likely
the most methodologically advanced and well known international program
recognized by the majority of world universities. In other words,
the IB diploma opens the doors to the best higher learning institutes
in different countries. Education at the DILIJAN School will take
place in English, as this is one of the three working languages with
Spanish and French in which all the academic literature under the IB
system is written, and there is a wide base of teachers possessing
the corresponding skills and experience. It is also planned that the
school’s students, regardless of their ethnic origin and country
of citizenship, will study several foreign languages, including
Armenian. We view it as one of our primary goals to have Armenian
included in the list of IB languages at all language levels (from
native speaker to beginner level), opening the possibility to teach
it at any levels at any of the world’s 3000 IB schools.

Popularizing the teaching of Armenian to Armenians and foreigners
alike is a very serious task, requiring considerable intellectual
and financial investments. Among the teachers we envision foreign and
local instructors, who will undergo recruitment and special training,
and an internship in foreign schools.

During the summer it is planned to organize a camp on the school
grounds for children wishing to visit their historic country of origin,
study Armenian and make new friends while participating in sport and
experiencing Armenian culture.

The question facing the majority of the school’s potential students
isn’t the loss of Armenian language, but acquiring it, since today
these children go to study in Russia, England, Switzerland and
America. We would like for our children, people of Armenian origin,
to have the opportunity to receive an outstanding education precisely
in Armenia, to study its culture and history and learn the language of
their ancestors. The school’s students from the Republic of Armenia
will study native language and native literature under a program
confirmed by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Armenia
for the country’s general education schools, which will allow them
to successfully enroll in Armenian universities. We also plan to
enroll students of a non-Armenian ethnic origin, who will not only
have the opportunity to receive an education that will help them
realize their potential, but to gain familiarity with an ancient
culture and language. This is an extremely ambitious task to which
we are firmly committed.

We are deeply concerned about the question of how the young generation
of the six million Diaspora – our children born outside of and having
never lived in Armenia – will consider themselves. Our children
are assimilating, and we can’t help but be alarmed by this. It is
the school’s mission to create strong, long-term ties based on the
principles of inter-ethnic tolerance with an Armenian coloring and
receiving an education of the highest academic caliber. We wonder
how to motivate our children to study Armenian language, which as of
today is neither the language they use to communicate with family,
nor at school, nor with friends. For this reason, we are investing in
a program for studying Armenian under the IB system. It is also the
reason why we plan to teach Armenian history, its literature and arts,
and we also want to train our students in ancient Armenian crafts.

Our goal is that the words ‘Armenia’ and ‘Armenian’ will not only be
associated with people perishing during the Genocide and earthquakes,
conjuring not pity and sympathy, but a feeling of pride for victories,
achievements and the successes of our graduates in the fields of
science, culture and art. We want to attract people of non-Armenian
origin, who are free to choose any location on the planet, to study,
live, work and raise their children. We are spending our time,
resources, talents and money so that Armenia becomes an appealing
and comfortable place for our children, a place where Armenians
and non-Armenians will come to and live, feeling at home in our
hospitable country. Precisely for this reason, we are investing in
the creation of infrastructure and conditions in which teachers from
different countries can live comfortably, as well as for raising the
qualifications of teachers from Armenia.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that because of an unfavorable
combination of circumstances, our project has met with a negative
reaction among the progressive and outspoken members of Armenian
society. The wave of indignation caused by the Republic of Armenia
Government’s suggested amendments to the law “On language” has
provoked a negative attitude toward schools that teach in foreign
languages. This has gradually led to the point that the DILIJAN
school project, which received numerous positive reviews after
the official ceremony where the Armenian President planted the
symbolic “tree of knowledge,” is cast over by unfavorable public
opinion. Over a relatively brief period, before it even started and
became established, the project acquired an opposition. We should
mention that the legislative amendments which were the reason for the
negative context surrounding the DILIJAN project are not a necessary
precondition to its successful realization, however in its current
reading the law makes it difficult for the children of Armenia to
obtain IB diplomas at our school in case they desire to continue
their education at the universities in Republic of Armenia.

At present, we are regrettably seriously considering the suspension
of work on the project, as it is our belief that even without these
additional obstacles to the successful realization of such a complex
initiative, and even provided the full support of government and
society, it will require an incredible amount of effort to convince
parents to send their children to a country about which they know
very little and which they do not conceive of as a place to live and
receive an education. In the current situation we do not view it as
feasible to develop the project, as it is fundamentally incorrect to
create a school in an atmosphere that rejects it.

We are deeply convinced that the role of education will increase
in the XXI century, which is why we consider the creation of this
kind of school a vitally important task. True, it’s possible that
today’s Armenia does not require the kind of school outlined in the
concept approved by the school’s Board of Trustees. For this reason,
at the next Board session in October, we will raise the question of
realizing this project not on the Armenian territory. However, we do
believe that Armenia will grow and prosper, and no matter what, we
intend to facilitate this process by implementing projects in Armenia.

As the body that has the duty of announcing public opinion, the
consolidated view of the Public Council will help us to make a
reasonable decision regarding the future of the project.

Best regards, Project Initiators DILIJAN International School Project

From: A. Papazian

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