By Ruzanna Stepanian
Greece’s Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos pledged on Tuesday to boost long-running Greek military assistance to Armenia which Armenian leaders said stems from “common strategic interests” of the two nations.
“The Greek people and the Greek Defense Ministry always stand by the Armenian people and are ready to help them on any issue,” he told reporters at the end of an official visit to Yerevan.
Spiliotopoulos gave few details of his meetings with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, saying only that they touched upon Greek-Armenian military ties both within the bilateral and NATO frameworks.
Spiliotopoulos was reported to tell Kocharian that Greece is ready to “continue and reinforce” its military cooperation with Armenia, which includes “material assistance” to the Armenian armed forces. The presidential press service also cited him as promising to assist in Yerevan’s growing involvement in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
“Greece is a friend and partner of Armenia,” Kocharian said, according to his office.
The praise was echoed by Markarian. “Andranik Markarian and Spilios Spiliotopoulos stressed that Greece’s and Armenia’s interests in the region converge because they are based on common approaches to the existing problems and the realization of the need to maintain its stability and military-political balance,” read a statement by the Armenian government’s press service.
“They noted that the expansion and development of the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries in the military-technical, military-educational, military-information and other fields will enable our countries to protect their common strategic interests in a more effective manner,” the statement said.
The two Christian nations share a long history of troubled relations with their common Muslim neighbor, Turkey. That might explain why Greece is Armenia’s closest NATO partner, having provided its military with non-combat equipment and trained scores of Armenian officers.
Greece’s financial and technical aid was also instrumental in the creation in 2001 of a special peace-keeping battalion of the Armenian army which has contributed troops to NATO’s peace-keeping mission in Kosovo and the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq. Incidentally, the Armenian soldiers serve in Kosovo as part of a Greek battalion. Their track record was praised by Spiliotopoulos.
Officials in Yerevan said the Armenian military plans to substantially increase the size of its peace-keeping detachment and counts on Greek assistance to the effort.
(Photolur photo: Spiliotopoulos, right, visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan with Sarkisian.)