A 15-year old boy with good reason for not saying
his name is talking about his experience at Yerevan's
Special School No. 18.
"God forbid what will happen if they catch
you when you escape," he says. "Muradyan
was stripping us, pouring water on us and whipping
us. If we decided to escape then we'd just as
well have dug a grave for ourselves. Once I escaped
at night but they caught me. The night man put
a piece of parquet on my hands and stood on that
"A few boys once were caught when they were
trying to escape. The night guards spat and pissed
on those boys. I wish this school were blown up."
School No. 18 is one of two special schools in
Armenia for children who exhibit "socially
dangerous behavior" as defined by the Ministry
of Education and Science.
Children between the ages of 7 and 12 who have
committed theft or other minor crimes are sent
to the special school (with the consent of their
parents) until they finish 8th form (at about
age 14). Additionally, orphans and children caught
begging or for vagrancy are sent to No. 18.
The school is located in the Nubarashen district
of Yerevan, and currently has 95 pupils, most
from extremely poor families.
Acting on information received of routine abuse
and mistreatment, ArmeniaNow interviewed former
and current students as well as school officials
to obtain the following report.
The recollections of the 15 year old is not the
only report of abuse at the school. ArmeniaNow
has talked with six youth who were placed at No.
18 at different times during 1997-2003. They talk
of beatings, of lockups, of having food withheld
and of being forbidden to meet with parents.
For the past 23 years School No. 18 has been
under the direction of Zhora Muradyan, who previously
was an assistant at the State Prosecutor's Office.
ArmeniaNow spoke with director Muradyan. He denies
all accusations of inappropriate conduct by the
Araik Safaryan is 16. His brother Stepan is 12.
In 1999, police saw the Safaryan brothers dressed
in dirty clothes and traveling alone in a Yerevan-Kharberd
Police went to their home in Kharberd on the
outskirts of Yerevan and told the boys' mother,
Hripsimeh, about a special school in Yerevan where
her boys would receive a proper education and
Hripsimeh, a single mother of five sons, gave
"The policemen praised the school and said
that it was a strict school and children would
be educated there very well and that I would have
few problems. I couldn't take care of all of my
children so I agreed," Hripsimeh says. It
is a decision she now regrets.
Stepan, then 8 years old, was not attending school
because his mother couldn't afford to send him.
He was happy for a chance to go to the school
the police told about.
"It was one of the first lessons. I couldn't
write 'N' letter very well and the teacher hit
me and my nose bled," says Stepan. "I
cleaned blood with my handkerchief. Muradyan told
me to visit his office and when I came he gave
me a slap. I told I would write a letter to my
ma and tell her that you beat me here. He said
if he knows that I did something like that then
he will tear the letter and me."
For two years Hripsimeh had no idea that her
sons were living in a school where, her son say,
they and other students were routinely mistreated.
Only once in a letter to his younger brother,
Stepan hinted that the boys were in an undesirable
"Andranik-jan, I wish you never meet bad
people in your life," the letter said.
Kudashin brothers say their time at Special
School 18 was not so happy.
Araik limps and his ankles are swollen. He says
that he still suffers from wounds inflicted by
Murad Muradyan, who is the director's son, and
vice-principal and physical education teacher.
"When we stood in line, he used to approach
us and kick my ankles. My legs were terribly aching,"
says Araik. "Once I told the doctor about
it but he said that I'm lying and sent me back
to class. I lost consciousness from pain, I didn't
remember anything. Then they called an ambulance."
According to the Safaryans and others, pupils
were punished for different reasons: when they
couldn't sleep and were talking lying in their
beds, when they didn't learn their lessons, when
they tore books, smoked, collected fruits in gardens
and for other reasons.
"I didn't eat a meal with onions in it and
gave it to a boy sitting next to me," Araik
says. "The cook told Muradyan about that
and he threw the meal in my face. He did that
Once Araik ran away from the school after not
being allowed to visit his mother. Hripsimeh sent
him back to school where, Araik says, Zhora Muradyan
stripped him, beat him with a belt and poured
water over him.
Students at No. 18 were under strict orders not
to tell parents anything about the school.
"I didn't know what was taking place in school,"
Hripsimeh says. "Children didn't tell me
anything. When Araik escaped I was very angry,
until I saw Stepan's blood soaked handkerchief."
It was Stepan's second blood soaked handkerchief.
This time he says it came after staff woke the
students in the middle of the night to discipline
some boys for talking after lights out.
"They put us into line and began giving
slaps. I fell aslept standing in the line and
fell down on my face. In the morning my nose swelled
but it didn't bleed. The doctor took a look at
the nose and said that it is broken but everything
is fine and I can go to classes.
"It was the lessons of Armenian language
and I didn't learn my lessons well enough. Teacher
Khachatryan gave me a slap and my nose bled. All
my clothes were soaked with blood. I put a handkerchief
on my nose but it didn't help."
Stepan kept the handkerchief until he finally
met his mother, as silent evidence of things he
was afraid to tell about.
After learning what had happened Hripsimeh took
her sons from the school and handed in an application
to the Ministry of Science and Education requesting
to transfer her children to another school. Now
Stepan studies in Kharberd and Araik works in
The family claims that Murad Muradyan and one
of the guards came to try to take the boys back.
"They were cursing and insulting,"
says the boys' grandmother, Maria. "They
said 'How can the children live in a house like
this?' (Seven Safaryans live in a small wagon).
And I told them 'How can I give my children to
you; you made them invalid."
currently at the school say that everything
Fifteen year old Roman and 16 year old Vasiliy
Kudashin spent six years in No. 18. In 1997, when
they were age nine and 10, the brothers were caught
stealing, and sent to the special school.
During their time at No.18, their father died
and their mother went missing. Last January Vasiliy
escaped from the school for the fourth time and
was ordered to an orphanage in Vanadzor.
The brothers remember the Nurbarshen school as
a place of constant beatings.
"There wasn't such a day when someone wasn't
beaten. We were beaten everyday," says Vasiliy.
In September 2002 the brothers learned from an
acquaintance that their father had been dead for
two years. The boys say that the director knew
about their father's death when it happened, but
did not tell them.
Upset at finding out the news, and to escape routine
punishment, one night the boys jumped out their
third-floor bedroom window into a fir tree. When
Roman hit the ground he injured his kidneys.
Once a pupil at the school tried to open the
door of a storehouse, however he couldn't open
it because the key broke off in the lock. Vasiliy
says that he found another part of the key and
Zhora Muradyan saw it in his hand and decided
that Vasiliy was the one who tried to open storehouse
"I told him that I didn't do that but he
said I broke the key and he was beating me all
day long. That day wherever he saw me he beat
me. He was beating me with hands and legs and
kicking my legs.
"Later he found out who tried to open the
storehouse. But he continued to beat me as he
wanted me to tell the names of those who broke
the key. I didn't know who broke the key but even
if I knew I wouldn't tell him."
The brothers say that Zhora Muradyan used a stick
with a thin piece of rubber attached as a whip
for the students.
When the brothers escaped to their home, they
found other people living there. The police took
them back to No. 18. This time, though, they were
"I was hurt (from the fall from his window)
and the cops told (Muradyan) that if he again
beats us they would put the law on him. Muradyan
was scared," says Roman.
According to Kudashin brothers, the director
used beatings to force children to snitch on each
"He liked very much to question children,"
Vasiliy says. "He was beating until someone
shouldered all the guilt."
Roman describes the director with one word: "He
is a sadist."
Oddly, though, Roman has a positive attitude
about one aspect of being at No. 18. He says that
the fear of punishment forced him to become a
good student. In Vanadzor he says he doesn't learn,
because no one will punish him if he doesn't.
The director of the Vanadzor orphanage, Arshaluis
Harutyunyan, says both Kudashin boys are well
behaved and that they have created no problems
in their time at the orphanage.
Zhora Muradyan, age 64, has been director of
School No. 18 since 1980 and director of Hankavan's
"Hasmik" camp for children and teenagers
(a Pioneer camp during Soviet times) since 1968.
Before independence, the number of students at
No. 18 never exceeded 15.
"During Soviet times children were caught
for playing cards and brought here," says
Zhora Muradyan. "They were brought here also
for being involved in fighting and knifing. We
never had children here who were real criminals
and had already had an experience of life in the
The 95 pupils now at the school do not include
any picked up for breaking the law. And last year,
for the first time, girls (6) were placed in the
The school is surrounded by walls. Anyone entering
must pass through a checkpoint.
In the back of the school are a fruit garden
and fruit trees. Muradyan remembers that before
he became director there was no time for apricots
to ripen as children used to steal immature fruits.
These days the orchard produces a bumper crop.
Silence reigns in the school. As the director
says: "When you enter the building you see
that everything is perfect starting from the cleanness
and ending with the order."
The building was reconstructed 18 years ago,
yet the classroom walls remain spotless. Chairs
are also clean and without any graffiti. The bathroom
was reconstructed by the Armenian Evangelistic
Church. Nongovernmental organizations can render
humanitarian assistance, but Muradyan refuses
any form of psychological, educational or social
When one lesson is finished, children form lines
and go to the next.
"Hey, man, you have problems with lines?
In other places as soon as the bell rings children
begin squabbling. But here when ring bells each
child stands in line and goes to another classroom.
You think it is a bad tradition?" asks Zhora
None of the staff confirms reports of beatings
Deputy principal of the school for educational
activity Haykanush Javakhyan, who, according to
the Sarafyan brothers, was constantly beating
them, says that no acts of violence are committed
in the school.
"We always hear words of praise from parents,"
he says. "They see big changes both in behavior
of their children and in their educational level
and in their discipline. There are no beatings
at all. How can we beat these children?"
Murad Muradyan insists on the same.
"Of course, beatings are not administered
here, they were administered in Ter Todik's school
(made famous in a popular Armenian writer's biography).
Children must simply be busy with something always.
During the lessons they must be busy with lessons,
during the games - with games and during the work
- with work. Commanders of military units say
that a soldier is a potential criminal if he is
not busy with something. The same with children
because if they are not busy with something then
they start thinking about other things."
grandmother says the school made the boys
The school has a military-patriotic bias. Different
hobby groups are functioning after classes such
as home land protection, military art, cutting
and sewing, shoemaking and painting.
Hrachya Manukyan, 21, is a graduate of the school
and now is employed as a night guard there. He
tells a slightly different story about discipline
at the school.
"Yes, I agree I slap (the students),"
he says. "But who were older than me slapped
me, but they did it for my good. They did it because
I was wrong. I felt that I was guilty and I deserved
that slap. t is better to get a slap than in the
future to sit behind the bars and be beaten with
Manukyan has no professional education, however,
it doesn't bother him.
"People can have diplomas but they must
have diplomas in their hearts. We already have
pedagogical education more or less. We have learned
from our teachers."
When staff members talk about advantages of the
school nobody forgets to mention several times
that everything has been done thanks to Muradyan,
who, as Javakhyan describes him, "is a real
Muradyan doesn't consider beatings to be his
main educational method.
"Can you keep children in school by beating
them," he asks. "If you beat children
they won't obey you and won't comply with your
However, he doesn't deny that from time to time
he administers corporal punishment.
"I can't educate children without punishing
them," he says. "If a child did something
which made everybody angry and if I don't give
that child a slap then I won't be able to educate
others. It can happen once a year."
He regards himself as a follower of strict educational
methods. He says that one must be exacting and
strict with children but at the same time attentive
Muradyan says that he demands three things of
new pupils: "You must learn well, model your
friends' behavior and demonstrate exemplary conduct.
And the third, come and confess to whatever you
And, according to Muradyan, if someone doesn't
confess then his friends tell him to do that or
they go and tell the director themselves.
"One of the little children once dirtied
the wall. You should have seen what other children
did with him, they said: 'Mr. Muradyan, he dirtied
the wall and we could hardly get it clean."
According to him, school administers punishments
such as reprimand, serious reprimand, or children
are not allowed to participate at different measures,
for instance, they are not taken to theatre.
Pupils tell about different methods of punishment.
If eating is considered to be a measure of reprimand,
then Muradyan and the pupils talk about the same
things because, according to them, the most popular
punishment is depriving of food.
Vasiliy: "Once a few boys tore covering
of chairs and 20 boys had been deprived of food
for one week. There was a boy, Artur, he was so
hungry that was eating walls. He was taking off
pieces of plaster from the wall and eating them.
My brother would bring bread for me and I ate
only bread and drank only water. "
Roman: "Once a boy tore a book and I was
deprived of dinner. Everybody ate four times a
day but I was allowed to eat only two times. Sometimes
it happened when for not learning lessons we were
deprived of food during the whole day."
Stepan: "When someone talked during the
dinner with another boy sitting next to him then
he was deprived of food. There was a special register
in the school. They put a mark next to your name
and forbade you to eat during the whole day. I
was deprived of food very often. If I had something
good, for instance, sport uniform or trousers,
then I exchanged it for food. There were boys
studying in eighth form, who would go and tell
Muradyan that we exchanged clothes for food and
they would come and beat us. Araik would often
bring food for me. Once my friend was deprived
of food, I chopped bread into the pocket of my
jacket and took it to him. Night people came to
check our pockets, I threw my jacket into the
neighboring room. So they didn't find bread and
left. Then I gave bread to my friend and told
him to eat quickly as they could return and check
again. As soon as he finished eating they returned
and saw crumbs of bread on the floor. They beat
everybody in the room."
Another alleged method of punishment is when
everybody is punished for someone's fault or when
everybody punishes someone.
Muradyan denies such charges.
"Children, themselves, don't punish someone.
There is nothing like that here. If a child did
something wrong they tell him to go and confess
himself and if he doesn't then they will tell
who did that."
the children", the director says.
However, boys say that voluntary nobody wants
to snitch on anybody.
Roman: "If someone was snitching then we
were finding reason to beat him and we told him
to go and answer for whatever he did. And after
that he never snitched. But we didn't know always
who was snitching."
Stepan: "Children of the whole school were
put in two lines and the delinquent child was
ordered to walk through these two lines and we
were ordered to beat him and spit on him while
he was walking through the lines. And we were
beating. If we didn't beat him then we would be
punished the same way."
Araik: "Once we must have learned something
by heart and I didn't learn it. Muradyan came
and asked who got a bad mark. I was one of those
with a bad mark. He ordered everybody to stand
in two lines and made me walk through those lines
and boys were beating me. When I reached him he
hit my belly and neck and deprived me of food
for the whole day".
The boys say Muradyan had an "all for one
and one for all" motto which forced everyone
to punish the one who misbehaved.
Vasiliy: "At night, at 12:00 or 1:00 when
someone was talking in the room they woke us up,
put in a line and beat us. Sometimes it happened
when they put a child, who was talking, in the
middle of the room and the entire line, 80 children,
were beating him. If we didn't beat him then we
would be beaten. Once they put us in line and
all of us began hitting a boy. When it was Igor
Pisarev's turn to hit that boy he refused. They
told him that if he didn't hit him then he, himself,
would be beaten more severely. He didn't, and
he was taken away and beaten severely for not
Roman: "When someone escaped they woke us
up at one o'clock at night and asked who knows
how he escaped and began beating us. There was
a lad, Liova Hakobyan, he was a teacher of crafts
and night guard as well. He used to open window,
strip us and put us next to it. We were freezing.
Then he was soaking wooden sticks in water and
All the boys tell of an isolation ward. The 15-year
old who is afraid to give his name says he spent
an entire day in the ward, dreaming of seeing
Muradyan being beaten in the ward.
Zhora Muradyan assures that over the years children
have escaped from school only two times. However,
children tell that there were many escapes and
sometimes there were even cases of mass escapes
by seven or eight children.
According to the former students, punishment
for escape is the most severe. Those who consistently
try to get away are sometimes urinated on by night
guards. Still, attempts are often the boys say.
Some who are afraid to escape look for other
ways to leave.
One boy, Levon, had an artificial eye. He took
his eye out and put it in the wing of a door,
so that it would be broken and he could go home.
But the eye didn't break, and Levon was beaten
for his attempt.
One 15 year old says he faked appendicitis, hoping
he'd be sent home. But he was operated on and
sent back to the school.
Back at the school, he put dirt in the incision
so that it became infected. He was sent back to
the hospital for treatment, and escaped from the
The boys say that conditions weren't as bad at
Camp Hasmik, where other children mixed with the
students. But some tried to run away from the
camp, they say, and were severely punished for
Roman: "When someone was caught escaping
from the camp he was tied to a tree near the river,
then they soaked a whip in the water and began
The boys told about one student, Hayk. He escaped
but Muradyan, they say, went to Hrazdan by car
and caught him there. Word among the students
is that Muradyan tied him near the river, stripped
him and beat him with a wet whip and then locked
him in the trunk of his car for the bumpy drive
ArmeniaNow relayed the accusations to Zhora Muradyan.
"Ask the children," he said, then produced
a letter from a 14-year old student Robert Shahinyan.
"Dear ma, don't' visit me. I have everything
I need here. They take care of me here and I know
Mr. Muradyan will find a place for me as he is
my father. Dear ma, I love you very much but I
love Mr. Muradyan a little more than you."
The former students who talked to ArmeniaNow
say that, if while they were still students, anyone
asked them about conditions, they would have said
the school was great. Otherwise, they say, a list
of punishments would be applied.
It is impossible to find a single pupil in school,
who will point at any defects. Everybody repeats:
"It is very good in school. Everything is
good. There is nothing bad happening here."
On a trip to Yerevan with the director of their
orphanage, the Kudashin brothers met one of their
classmates in a Yerevan market (during summer
when the boy had been allowed to leave the school
for some days).
The boy said he is trying every way possible
to get out of No. 18. But, later at he school,
the same boy told ArmeniaNow: "I have no
problems, everything is very good "
The director assures that parents can meet with
their children whenever they want. However, there
are cases when he forbids meetings.
say that Murad Muradyan, the director's
son, is known for strict discipline..
"A parent came to see her child. The child
enters my office and says: 'My ma came drunk,
I don't want other children to know about it.'
What should I do?"
But Hripsimeh Sarafyan says she was not drunk
or otherwise objectionable when Muradyan refused
to let her visit her boys.
"When I went there for the first time to
see my children he said: 'You won't see your children
until you demonstrate good character'," she
says. "I didn't understand what he meant
by 'demonstrate good character.'
"So I had been going to school for one week
and returning from there with tears in my eyes.
He was forbidding me to see my children if only
to make sure that they are in that school. I couldn't
take it any more and one day I made noise there
asking what was the reason that they were forbidding
me to see my children. He said that they don't
allow children to meet with their parents if parents
are drinkers or drug-addicted. I said I will sit
here until a doctor comes and examines me and
if that doctor finds traces of alcohol or drugs
in my blood then I will disown my children, but
if he doesn't find then you will answer for that.
After I said that he softened."
One boy's mother says that she had been visiting
the school every two weeks, but that Muradyan
told her that she couldn't come that frequently.
So she started going once a month. One boy says
he didn't see his parents for three to five months.
Muradyan confesses that he forbids some children
to go home as they can commit thefts on their
The Ministry of Education and Science is aware
of disciplinary methods at Special School No.
18, from complaints made by a few parents. The
ministry is aware, too, that it is illegal for
a child to be refused the right to see his parents.
Still, the ministry has not investigated charges
of physical abuse or abuse of rights.
Chief specialist of the ministry Anahit Muradyan
(no relation to the others) says that she heard
about acts of violence but she has no "official"
information on the matter. She says that first
of all a definition must be given to violence.
"In accordance with previous legislation,
slapping wasn't regarded as an act of violence."
The Government of Armenia has no guidelines for
regulating discipline in its schools. Consequently,
directors of schools administer their own methods
for educating children. According to Anahit Muradyan,
it is natural when different institutions administer
different methods. She thinks that schools like
the one in Nubarashen are necessary.
"There are numerous educational methods
in the world," she says. "Who said that
only one method must be administered in all of
Anahit Muradyan considers it an effective method,
for example, when students at No. 18 punish other
students, so long as a child's rights are not
She says, too, that some directors exercise too
much ownership of their students. In previous
times, she says, the directors were considered
guardians and not just educators of such children
and would use personal methods of child rearing.
"Directors of schools have no right to replace
parents," she says. "Educational institutions
help parents only to organize their children's
education and sometimes during that process it
becomes necessary to offer care services. According
to legislation, only parents have the right to
decide anything for their children."
Today there are 52 special educational institutions
in Armenia where some 11,000 children live and
study. Twenty six are for orphans and children
deprived of parental care.
Over the past three years the Assembly and Transferring
Center for children has sent eight children to
Nubarashen. Two later committed crimes for which
they were sent to prison. (The Center works with
3 to 18 year olds living in unsuitable conditions.
After three to five months at the Center, the
children are sent to different educational institutions.)
"The makeup of children who were sent to
special schools has changed over past 10 years,"
says psychologist of the Center Karen Harutyunyan.
"In the '90s there were specific antisocial
groups of children who mainly committed thefts
and they were sent to special disciplinary schools."
But Harutyunyan says that in the past three years,
street children are mainly those who are not out
to commit crimes, but who are forced to be there
because of social hardship. Meanwhile, however,
staffs of special schools have not changed their
methods to match the change in the kind of child
who ends up in their care.
"If children who appeared in hard social
conditions are subjected to violence then probably
these methods are sadistic," the psychologist
says. "I'm sure that the entire staff of
Nubarashen cannot have sadistic impulses. However
if methods that were used before are still in
use then the staff is so isolated from the outer
world that they still continue to stick to the
methods of work with 'children-criminals'."
Harutyunyan says he has visited School No. 18
over the past three years and that, even in private,
no child has ever expressed oppression. At the
same time, he has met boys who previously attended
No. 18 and recall it as an emotionally difficult
He says he has heard the explanations for why
parents are refused visitation rights.
"If they kill a parent in the heart of a
child then the rebellious feeling against the
loss will arise in a child's heart and it can
be resulted in acts of hooliganism, sadness, despair
and desire for escapes.
"At the same time I want to let everybody,
especially human rights activists, know that it
is impossible to help children to resolve all
their emotional problems and overcome all difficulties
connected with their behavior only by calling
for protection of children's rights. Also, these
institutions need good specialists of psychology,
who will help in resolving the children's problems."