Dilijan School under construction: Moscow Armenian tycoon’s project viable despite criticism

Dilijan School under construction: Moscow Armenian tycoon’s project viable despite criticism

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For a few months now in the once blooming resort town of Dilijan, Tavush province, construction has been on for Dilijan International School as the idea of the unique school survived initial public discontent. At one point last year the project discouraged the initiators to an extent when they were, as they said, about to give up the idea completely.

A number of Armenian Diaspora representatives – Veronika Zonabend, Timothy Flynn and Noubar Afeyan – introduced the idea of building an international school in Dilijan last year, although well-known Russia-based Armenian businessman Ruben Vardanyan, Troika Dialogue company president, is credited as the main initiator.

When faced with the sharp criticism of “We are against foreign-language schools” initiative group in Armenia, the project authors explained that the main idea of founding such a school is part of Armenia-2020 project and is meant to contribute to Armenia’s “development and prosperity”.

On July 1 this year the project was granted a construction permission to start building school service structures.

“As school construction is a large-scale initiative, for now they have been granted first-stage construction permission for building a boiler house, communication and water drainage systems, and a hospital building,” Chief Architect of Dilijan Nver Danielyan told ArmeniaNow.

“Permission for building the school itself has not been granted yet. The blueprints are about to be completed and we will discuss that stage once the plan is submitted to the municipality,” he added.

The school is expected to have the capacity of 600 students annually between the age range of 13 and 18; among them 200 would be citizens of Armenia. The idea is that the school graduates would have international bachelor degrees recognized by the majority of universities around the world. The project budget is over $60 million.

Commenting on criticism against the school idea, Vardanyan said that it was misunderstood and misinterpreted.

“I believe we have our share of fault that people have misunderstood us. We are only building a private international school where not only Armenian but also foreign students could study, and, as everywhere else in the world, the language of instruction would be English because otherwise it would be impossible to bring international students to Dilijan,” Vardanyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun) in his September 15 interview.

He expressed a hope that the school would open its doors in September of 2013.

Dilijan mayor Armen Santrosyan believes it is an unprecedented project for the town development: “An international school is being built in Dilijan. It is like a small town being built inside a town.”

Environmentalists, on the contrary, are concerned with the fact that 67 ha forest has been allotted to the school from the Dilijan National Park.

“Heavy machinery is now operated at the construction site, right under the national park forests; the area is leveled and cleared (dozed). The city hall granted the permission without public discussions, which by itself is illegal,” said president of Ecolur NGO Inga Zarafyan.

The chief architect of Dilijan, however, gives assurances that no construction is done in the territory of the Dilijan National Park.