By Hovannes Shoghikian and Emil Danielyan
Armenia sent 46 non-combat troops to Iraq on Wednesday in a regular rotation of its small military contingent that joined the U.S.-led occupation force there more than two years ago.
The army truck drivers, demining experts, medics and other military personnel will replace the same number of their comrades who have completed their six month tour of duty in Iraq and will be flown back to Yerevan later this month. The Armenian contingent is part of a Polish-led multinational division deployed in mainly Shia-populated areas south of Baghdad.
“What your detachment is doing is a continuation of a fight for survival that characterizes the modern history of the Armenian people,” Colonel-General Seyran Ohanian, chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, told the departing troops during a farewell ceremony. “Your mission demonstrates that Armenia can not only defend itself but contribute to global security.”
Ohanian went on to compare Armenian soldiers’ service in Iraq and Kosovo with Armenian “feats” during the continuing military conflict with Azerbaijan. “Your battalion has successfully performed its tasks in Iraq and Kosovo, and I believe that, if necessary, we can do so in other conflict zones as well,” he said, referring to the special army unit that provides troops to the first-ever Armenian military missions abroad.
The head of the Armenian Defense Ministry’s foreign relations department, Major-General Mikael Melkonian, announced in May that Yerevan is considering increasing the number of its peace-keeping troops in Kosovo and joining the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan. He said it is currently discussing the issue with the governments of Britain and Greece.
Ohanian also did not rule out the possibility of an Armenian deployment in Afghanistan and a troop increase in Kosovo. “The Defense Ministry has made no such decision yet,” he told reporters.
Earlier this year, the U.S. military donated a mobile field hospital to the Armenian peacekeeping battalion. The then U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, said during its inauguration in February that the assistance is meant to facilitate “future Armenian military deployments with coalition or NATO forces” in various conflict zones and Afghanistan in particular.
On Tuesday, the government of Germany, a major contributor to the NATO force in Afghanistan, similarly donated nine tons of medical equipment to the Armenian military. A senior Defense Ministry official said the “humanitarian assistance” will enable Armenia to deploy and fully equip another military hospital “in field conditions.”