By Atom Markarian
The government approved on Thursday a procedure for the implementation of new legislation offering fugitive Armenian citizens who have for years dodged compulsory military service to buy an amnesty.
The process will be handled by a high-level commission headed by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. It will also comprise five other representatives of the Armenian Defense Ministry as well as officials from the Prosecutor’s Office and other government agencies.
The law in question was passed by parliament last December and came into force on March 1. It enables draft dodgers aged 27 and older to avoid criminal prosecution in return for a hefty fee depending on the number of years spent on the run. Officials say the payment should average 2 million drams ($3,500) per person. The law envisages payment exemptions for those men whose father or brother was killed while on military duty and who have three or more children.
The Armenian military estimates that the amnesty-for-cash scheme, described as “moral and justified” by Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian, will be applicable to about 5,000 men. Virtually all of them are thought to live abroad. Many fled Armenia in the early 1990s, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
The commission led by Sarkisian will consider their applications and rule on them within a month. The cabinet gave it the exclusive authority to grant or reject the amnesty. Defense Ministry officials told RFE/RL last month that they are already receiving inquiries from prospective applicants living in Russia and Europe.
Aghabekian said the military has yet to decide how to deal with an estimated 14,000 teenage boys who have left Armenia with their families over the past 12 years and are not registered with military commissariats in charge of the draft. It is highly doubtful they will agree to served in the Armenian army willingly.
The authorities have begun enforcing the amnesty law in the wake of the failure of their controversial attempt to abolish military service deferments and exemptions enjoyed by male graduate students. A government bill was withdrawn from parliament last week following vehement student protests.
Aghabekian denounced the protests, saying that the students place their personal interests above national security. “The Defense Ministry felt really badly for what happened in our country,” he told reporters.
But he said the government will “take into account” the criticism and reintroduce an amended version of the bill later this year.