By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government has formally given its approval to a parliament bill that will offer young men who have for years evaded compulsory military service to buy a legal pardon, officials said on Wednesday.
The bill passed by the National Assembly in the first reading last November would exempt the fugitive draft dodgers aged 27 and older from criminal prosecution in exchange for a hefty fee. Those who have spent ten years on the run will, for example, have to pay 2 million drams ($3,500) to avoid imprisonment.
The legislation was drafted by Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party who chaired the defense and security committee of the previous parliament. To come into force it needs to be approved by the current legislature in the second and possibly third readings.
Hovannisian, who is now the parliament’s deputy speaker, told RFE/RL that he will push for the draft law’s final passage this fall. The current chairman of the defense and security committee, Mher Shahgeldian, said he supports the idea of an amnesty for cash “in principle.”
More importantly, the bill in question enjoys the backing of the Armenian Defense Ministry and the government as a whole. The government formally notified the National Assembly of its position this week, parliament officials said.
“Our opinion is positive,” a senior Defense Ministry lawyer, Sedrak Sedrakian, told RFE/RL on Wednesday. “We hope that the law will allow a large number of young men to return to their homeland.”
Criminal cases have been pending against an estimated 5,000 Armenian citizens for their failure to perform their military duty. Many of them are believed fled Armenia in the early 1990s, during the war with Azerbaijan. Only a small percentage is thought to have refused military service on religious grounds.
Under Armenian law every male citizen aged 18 years is obliged to serve in the armed forces for two years. Undergraduate students of state-run Armenian universities may join the army after completing their studies.