By Ruzanna Khachatrian
At least 120 Armenian men who for years evaded compulsory military service have bought a government amnesty since the entry into force on March 1 of a special law allowing the practice, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Sedrak Sedrakian, the chief lawyer at Armenia’s Defense Ministry, told RFE/RL that their applications have been reviewed and approved by an inter-ministerial government commission headed by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Under he law passed by parliament last December draft dodgers aged 27 and older can avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for a hefty fee depending on the number of years they have spent on the run. The maximum fine is set at 1.8 million drams ($3,300) per person. Those men whose father or brother was killed while on military duty or who have three or more children are exempt from any payment. According to Sedrakian, the government commission has already collected 40 million drams.
The Armenian military estimates that the amnesty-for-cash arrangement 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 military is also preparing for the entry into force of another important legislation which introduces alternative service for those young men who do not want to serve in the Armenian Armed Forces for two years on religious grounds. The law, also adopted in December, enables them perform non-combat duties inside army bases for three years or spend 3.5 years on a distinctly civilian service outside them.
The Armenian authorities imprisoned the conscientious objectors, most of them affiliated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization, up until this year, ignoring protests from the Council of Europe and other international human rights groups. The new law should put an end to the practice. Sedrakian said he believes the number of people opting for an alternative service “will not be essential for the armed forces.”