By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The government’s decision to require hefty deposits from Armenian men studying abroad was on Friday attacked by the chairman of the parliament committee on science and education who branded it a “bribe for leaving the country.”
“The solution found by the government is, to put it mildly, not the best one,” Shavarsh Kocharian told RFE/RL.
Under a decree approved by ministers on Thursday, Armenian students enrolled on privately-funded programs of foreign universities will now have to mortgage $15,000 worth of cash or property as a guarantee that they will return to the country to perform their compulsory military service. Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian said the highly unusual measure is aimed at further complicating draft evasion and legalizing the status of Armenians studying abroad.
But according to Kocharian, the decree is unfair and discriminates against young men who come from modest-income families and make up the majority of expatriate students. Kocharian, who leads the opposition National Democratic Party, said he doubts that their entire property, including apartments, is worth $15,000. He said the government should have instead offered them incentives to return to Armenia.
Under Armenian law every male citizen aged 18 years is obliged to serve in the armed forces for two years. The law allows only the undergraduate students of state-run Armenian universities to join the army after completing their four- or five-year studies. Citizens studying abroad on government-approved exchange programs can also have their service deferred.
Government agencies on Friday declined to give any figures as to the number of young men studying abroad on their own. The overwhelming majority of them are thought to have privately-funded scholarship. Mkrtchian said “dozens” are facing criminal proceedings for evading military service.
The office of chief military prosecutor refused to give a more precise figure.
Every year, the U.S. government awards one- or two-year fellowships to between 40 and 50 Armenians for graduate studies in the United States. Virtually all of the male fellows pursue a U.S. master’s degree after having performed their military duty.