By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Two senior Armenian army generals have indicated their opposition to Yerevan’s plans to join the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq with a small unit of non-combat troops by the end of this year.
“I am not delighted with the decision to send our troops there and the war in general,” Lieutenant-General Yuri Khachaturov, a deputy minister of defense, told reporters late on Tuesday. “Because of that the Armenian community [in Iraq] and Armenians in general could have problems in the future.”
Khachaturov’s concerns were echoed on Wednesday by Major-General Enrico Apriamov, deputy chief of staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces. “I can’t comment on this because there is an issue of peace keeping and an issue of aggression,” he said. “As peacekeepers, we are ready to perform duties to our people for the sake of our homeland.”
Asked whether he believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was aggression, Apriamov replied, “This question should be put to President George Bush. [He should be asked] what he meant by sending troops to Iraq. I am a military officer and am against war.”
The comments are a rare expression of personal views by members of the Armenian army’s top brass and expose its serious misgivings about the deployment plans reaffirmed by President Robert Kocharian during a visit to Poland on Monday.
Kocharian formally offered his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski to send some 50 military doctors, sappers and truck drivers to south central Iraq administered by a Polish-led multinational division. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian accompanying Kocharian argued that considers itself a “part of the European family” and feels “obliged to participate in the efforts to assure security.”
The offer was accepted by and drew praise from the Polish government. “Such decisions are very difficult, but necessary at the time of the joint struggle against terrorism,” Kwasniewski said.
Lieutenant-General Artur Aghabekian, another deputy defense minister seen as Sarkisian’s right-hand man, told RFE/RL late last week that a team of Armenian military officials will visit Iraq this month to prepare for the arrival of the Armenian troops. He said they will join the Polish-led contingent “at the end of the autumn or the beginning of the winter.”
Khachaturov claimed that the Armenian parliament may still block the deployment by refusing to ratify it. His comments also give more weight to fears that Armenia’s accession to the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” could make thousands of ethnic Armenians living in Iraq a potential target of attacks by anti-American insurgents.