By Armen Zakarian
President Robert Kocharian heaped lavish praise on Armenia’s armed forces on Monday as they celebrated the tenth anniversary of their creation. He said the army, formed at the start of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, has been his struggling country’s “first and foremost achievement” over the past decade.
“The Armenian army proved its reliability in the battlefield and today continues to consistently boost its combat readiness,” Kocharian in a speech to the top military brass delivered at the ministry of defense. “It must be acknowledged that the army is the strongest link in our state apparatus.”
The armed forces officially came into existence on January 28, 2002 with the creation of the defense ministry by a decree signed by then president Levon Ter-Petrossian. The day was for the first time marked as an official holiday this year.
Kocharian decorated a group of military officers with medals and promoted several colonels to the rank of major-general on the occasion. The chief of the army staff, Lieutenant-General Mikael Harutiunian, was given the rank of colonel-general, the highest in the army hierarchy.
The president, who is their commander-in-chief under the Armenian constitution, pledged that his “special attention to the army will only increase,” adding that he is satisfied with last year’s inspections of several military units.
Kocharian thanked the civilian population of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for having done “everything possible and impossible” for the victory over Azerbaijan.
He also made a veiled reference to what human rights groups say is a widespread mistreatment of young army conscripts and other abuses. He stopped short of criticizing the top military commanders for the practices, saying only that they reflect “numerous problems facing the society.”
In a recent report on Armenia, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch condemned “widespread torture, beatings, and noncombat fatalities of soldiers in the army,” accusing military investigators of covering up many such crimes.
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who also spoke at the official ceremony at his ministry, claimed that the situation with army crime is improving. He said there were 56 noncombat deaths in the Armenian army last 2001, down from 325 such cases registered in 1995.
Sarkisian, who was the commander of the Karabakh Armenian forces in 1992-93, also praised his two wartime predecessors, the late Vazgen Sarkisian and Vazgen Manukian, who is now one of Kocharian’s main political opponents. He also noted ex-president Ter-Petrossian’s role in the army’s formation and strengthening.
Later in the day Kocharian and other top civilian and military officials visited the Yerablur cemetery in Yerevan to pay their respects to hundreds of victims of the Karabakh war buried there.