By Anush Martirosian
The Armenian government intends to abolish temporary exemptions from military service that have long been enjoyed by university students, a senior lawmaker confirmed on Monday.
Armenian law has until now allowed draft-age men enrolled in state-run universities to perform the two-year compulsory service after completing their undergraduate and/or graduate studies.
Reports in the Armenian press have said that the government has drafted legal amendments that will scrap the deferments. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other top government officials have pointedly declined to refute those reports.
Armen Ashotian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on science, education and youth affairs, went farther, indicating that the amendments’ submission to the National Assembly is a matter of time. He argued that Armenia’s conscription-based army will increasingly face personnel shortages as it begins to draft young men born in the early 1990s.
The country’s population and birth rate sharply declined during those years because of the collapse of the Armenian economy and the resulting mass out-migration of hundreds of thousands of its citizens.
“The draft is reaching [those born during] the years of the so-called demographic slump,” said Ashotian. He said the government and the National Assembly should put in place financial and other incentives that would encourage demobilized soldiers to complete their higher education.
Vahan Shirkhanian, an opposition politician who had served as deputy defense minister throughout the 1990s, criticized the planned measure, saying it does not represent a fundamental solution to the problem. He said the loss of more mature university graduates, who are typically trained to become sergeants during their service, would hit the army hard.
Shirkhanian told RFE/RL that instead of drafting 18-year-old students the authorities should increase the number of military personnel serving on a contractual basis. “This is the only way of strengthening Armenia’s army,” he said.
The percentage of volunteer soldiers serving in Armenia’s Armed Forces has already risen significantly over the past decade.