By Armen Zakarian
Armenia replaced its small military contingent in Kosovo on Friday for a second time since the start of its participation in the NATO-led peace-keeping mission in the former Yugoslav province more than a year ago.
Thirty-four soldiers and officers left Yerevan on board a Greek military plane that flew back another platoon of the Armenian armed forces earlier in the day. The unit was rotated after completing a seven-month tour of duty as part of a Greek peace-keeping battalion which is deployed in the U.S.-controlled section of the breakaway region.
“Your departure once again confirms the fact that Armenia is more and more involved in the process of ensuring security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and other parts of the world,” Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told an official farewell ceremony held at a military base in Yerevan.
“The Armenian people repeatedly received the support of the international in critical times,” he said. “And now that we have acquired a lasting peace with international assistance we can not stay indifferent to the fate of peoples needing that peace in various corners of the world.”
Most of the soldiers that left Yerevan already served in Kosovo last year. Aghabekian told reporters that some of the servicemen who returned home on Friday will prepare to replace their comrades currently deployed in Iraq. He said the latter are due to complete their tour of duty by the end of July.
The Armenian contingent in Iraq is made up of 46 non-combat servicemen, most of them sappers and truck drivers. They are based in a south-central part of the country controlled by a Polish-led multinational division.
“We are in constant touch with our detachment,” Aghabekian said, adding that they are carrying out their mission “with honor.”
The Armenian government decided to join the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq despite strong public opposition. Critics of the deployment have warned of possible terrorist attacks on thousands of ethnic Armenians living in Iraq. No such attacks have been reported so far.