By Armen Zakarian
Fugitive Armenian men who have evaded compulsory military service for the past ten years will be offered amnesty in exchange for a hefty fee, under a bill to be debated by the parliament this fall.
Parliament experts working on the proposed arrangement said on Tuesday that it has already been approved by the Armenian defense ministry and stands a good chance of becoming a law.
The measure will concern draft dodgers above the age of 27 -- the legal age limit for Armenian army conscripts. Many of them fled Armenia in the early 1990s and are still on the run. Under the bill in question, they would avoid criminal prosecution and imprisonment by paying approximately 2 million drams ($3,600) to the state.
The draft law also offers discounts for various categories of fugitive men. Those who went to university after illegally avoiding military service would legalize their status with half of the sum, while fathers of two children would have to pay less than a third of it. Those who have three children would be exempted from prosecution free of charge.
Draft dodgers aged 27 and younger will not qualify for the unprecedented amnesty.
The proposed legislation, if passed by the parliament, will come on the heels of a controversial government decision last week to require $15,000 deposits from young Armenians enrolled on privately-funded programs of foreign universities. Officials said the measure is aimed at preventing their draft evasion. But critics believe that it is unfair and discriminates against expatriate students coming from low-income families.
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.
According to unofficial estimates, criminal cases are pending against more than 5,000 men for their failure to perform their military duty. Only a small percentage of them are thought to be opposed to military service on religious grounds. Several dozens of them, mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been tried and jailed in recent years.
Armenia committed itself to enacting a law on alternative service for the conscientious objectors when it was admitted into the Council of Europe in January 2001. A corresponding draft law is also expected to be debated by the parliament at its autumn session which starts next week.