By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament wrapped up on Monday debates on a controversial bill that would pardon longtime military draft dodgers in exchange for a hefty fee, with some top lawmakers criticizing the measure.
The proposed amnesty would apply to male citizens above the age of 27 -the legal age limit for Armenian army conscripts. Many of them fled Armenia in the early 1990s to evade compulsory military service and are still on the run. Under the draft law drawn up by the parliament committee on defense and security, they would avoid criminal prosecution and imprisonment by paying approximately $5,000 to the state.
The committee chairman, Vahan Hovannisian, argued that its passage would allow thousands of fugitive Armenians to return to their homeland and legalize their status. He said many of them have already expressed readiness to do so, a claim challenged by another senior parliamentarian, Victor Dallakian.
Dallakian, who heads the parliament's legal affairs committee, countered that the draft dodgers were covered by last year's general amnesty and few of them have since returned to Armenia. According to unofficial estimates, criminal cases are pending against more than 5,000 men for their failure to serve in the army.
Another committee chairman, Shavarsh Kocharian cited ethical motives for his opposition to the bill, describing the amnesty payment as a "legalized form of bribery." "I think that this would shatter the foundations of the state," he said, arguing that nobody must be allowed to buy clemency.
One of the backers of the bill, Kim Balayan, rejected this argument, urging fellow deputies to view the amnesty fee as a legal fine. The bill has also been endorsed by Balayan's Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the parliament's largest Miasnutyun faction.
The Armenian Defense Ministry, unlike the Office of Chief Military Prosecutor, also supports it. This fact bodes well for the passage of the legislation. The deputies are due to vote on it on Tuesday.