By Ruzanna Stepanian
Thirty-four soldiers and officers are leaving on a six-month mission for Kosovo on Wednesday as a replacement of Armenia’s peacekeeping contingent in this former Yugoslav province.
The rotated platoon was flown back to Yerevan on Tuesday, with Armenian military officials praising the services of the Armenian soldiers to their country thousands of miles away from home.
This is the fourth rotation of Armenian peacekeepers in Kosovo since the country joined the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in this breakaway region in 2004 performing their duty as part of a Greek peace-keeping battalion.
Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told the media of his observations made while on a visit to Kosovo recently.
He said that Armenian peacekeepers in Kosovo are mainly involved in preserving Christian churches and patrolling areas of concentration of refugees to stave off possible ethnic clashes between Albanians and Serbs.
Armenian peacekeepers are also authorized to identify suspicious persons and interrogate them.
“I had toured all areas where Armenian peacekeepers are carrying out their mission. One of the churches there is called an Armenian church. During one outbreak of clashes there, most of the churches were abandoned by international peacekeepers, but our peacekeepers continued to protect their church,” said Aghabekian.
According to the deputy minister, Armenian soldiers in Kosovo are provided with everything and all problems are solved on a due level.
According to Aghabekian, in the next year and a half Armenia will continue its peacekeeping mission in that area, while in the near future Armenia is going to form a peacekeeping brigade, for which purpose it regularly completes its battalion with new personnel.
“We have a commitment as part of Armenia-NATO cooperation to continuing to man our battalion. And we will also be training new personnel to have a peacekeeping brigade in the future,” Aghabekian said.
Greeting the Armenian peacekeepers returning from Kosovo, the deputy defense minister attached high importance to their mission.
“Now that the policy of integration into Europe has become a priority for Armenia, any seat of instability and any manifestation of ethnic animosity within the boundaries of Europe is a matter of everyone’s concern. Europe’s security is also Armenia’s security,” he said.
“There is a desire first of all to represent the Armenian tricolor in any spot of the world where we will be ordered to go, to show the classic image of the Armenian soldier for the world to see our army, our soldier and learn more about our nation,” one of the soldiers leaving to Kosovo told RFE/RL.
The monthly salary of Armenian peacekeepers in Kosovo is equivalent to about 700 euros.