Georgia not to close Azeri schools - paper

Ekho, Baku
26 Jun 04

An official of the Georgian Education Ministry has denied reports that
the schools of the country's ethnic minorities will be closed as a
result of reforms in the education system, the Azerbaijani newspaper
Ekho has reported. Levan Takheladze said that the quality of education
in the schools of Georgia's ethnic minorities leaves something to be
desired. In Azeri, Armenian and Russian schools they study by the
books that come from those countries, he said. The Education Ministry
intends to translate Georgian textbooks into the languages of the
ethnic minorities so that they can receive education in line with
Georgia's own standards, Takheladze told Ekho. The following is a text
of E. Quliyev report by Azerbaijani newspaper Ekho on 3 July headlined
"The Georgian Ministry of Education intends not to close Azeri
schools, but rather to bring the education system in them in line with
the educational standards of that country". Subheadings have been
inserted editorially:

The threat of closure

The threat of the closure of all 168 Azeri-language schools in Georgia
within the next two or three years will emerge as a result of planned
reforms in the education sector of that country, the chairman of the
Qeyrat movement of the Azeris in Georgia, Alibala Asgarov, has said in
a conversation with Ekho.

According to him, the Georgian education minister [Kakha Lomaia] made
a statement recently that from 2006 all classes in the Georgian
schools would be taught in the country's national language.

According to Asgarov, the minister explained that these measures were
not directed against the schools of national minorities and that the
latter could study the history and geography of their historical
motherland and their native tongue in their own language. "It has to
be noted, however, that ethnic Azeris in Georgia have been officially
banned from studying the history and geography of Azerbaijan since
1996. Only the native language remains," Asgarov said. According to
the chairman of Qeyrat, in contrast to the educational system of
Azerbaijan, schools in Georgia are funded from local budgets which
mainly consist of land taxes.

"The authorities say that ethnic minorities who are interested in
preserving their schools should think about sources of funding
themselves. But the ethnic Azeris have no funds to keep the
schools. The reforms will violate the right of the ethnic Azeris to
education."

Ethnic minorities cannot afford to fund their schools

In turn, the former member of the Georgian parliament, Zumrud
Qurbanov, said in a conversation with Ekho that he did not regard as
trustworthy the rumours that the schools of the ethnic minorities will
be closed soon or the burden of keeping them will be placed on the
ethnic minorities themselves. "There are 170 Azeri schools in Georgia
and some 200 Armenian schools. It is obvious that ethnic minorities
cannot afford to fund this number of educational institutions.
According to the Georgian constitution and international law,
secondary education schools should be funded by the state," the former
deputy said.

Meanwhile, the ethnic Armenians are not pleased with the planned
educational reforms in Georgia either. For example, according to the
A-Info news agency, cultural departments in predominantly
Armenian-populated districts have shown their displeasure with the
project because, if it is implemented, the Armenian schools will lose
99 per cent of their specialists even if the transformation is
implemented gradually. Significant funds are required to train
specialists who speak Georgian, but the state cannot afford to
allocate them.

Georgian official denies schools to be closed

In turn, the head of the Georgian Education Ministry press service,
Levan Takheladze, said in a conversation with Ekho that the planned
reforms in the educational sector of Georgia do not envisage the
closure of the schools of the ethnic minorities. According to him, the
education system in the schools of the ethnic minorities will be
brought as a result in line with the standards of the Georgian
schools."

The head of the press service noted that the quality of education in
the schools of the ethnic minorities leaves something to be
desired. "In Azeri schools, they study by the books that come from
Azerbaijan, in Armenian schools they study by the books that come from
Armenia, and the Russian schools get books from Russia. Naturally,
this state of affairs does not please the leadership of the Education
Ministry because these manuals are intended for and written according
to the standards of the countries in which they are published. This is
why the Georgian Education Ministry decided to translate, using its
own resources, the books that are used in Georgian schools into the
languages of the ethnic minorities. This will allow the ethnic
minorities to receive education that fully complies with the standards
of the Georgian education system," Levan Takheladze said. According to
him, rumours that the funding of ethnic schools will become a concern
for the ethnic minorities are not true. Takheladze emphasized that the
funding of the schools is a duty of the country's government and that
the authorities have no intention of delegating their duties to the
ethnic minorities.

In a conversation with Ekho, the newly-elected member of the Georgian
parliament, Allahverdi Humbatov, described all talk about the closure
of the Azeri schools as a rumour spread by unsuccessful
politicians. According to Humbatov, the incumbent Georgian authorities
are not conducting an anti-Azeri policy. "Ethnic Azeris in Georgia
currently live better than they lived before, and in the future they
will live better than now," the parliamentarian concluded.