The Armenian parliament approved on Wednesday yet another extension of a law allowing male citizens of Armenia who illegally evaded compulsory military service to buy a government amnesty.
Under the law, which first took effect in 2004, they can avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for a hefty fee depending on the number of years they have spent on the run. The maximum fine was set at 1.8 million drams ($5,000) per person.
Those draft dodgers whose father or brother was killed while on military duty or who have three or more children are exempt from any payment.
The amnesty-for-cash scheme was originally applicable only to those fugitive men who were aged 27 or older by June 2004. This age threshold has been repeatedly raised since then.
The law most recently applied to service evaders who turned 27 before May 2009. A government-drafted legal amendment overwhelmingly passed by the National Assembly extended this time frame to November 2010.
Presenting the bill to lawmakers on Tuesday, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Hranush Hakobian said it will help to repatriate thousands of Armenians who have fled the country since the early 1990s. “With this change, we will enable them to freely return to their homeland,” she said.
The Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security endorsed the proposed extension before it was passed by the full assembly. According to the committee chairman, Hrayr Karapetian, about 5,000 Armenian men have bought amnesty since 2004, paying a total of roughly 5 billion drams to the state budget.
Government officials estimate that approximately 20,000 other fugitives are still wanted by Armenian law-enforcement bodies for draft evasion. Virtually all of them are thought to live abroad. Many fled Armenia in the early 1990s, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Karapetian suggested that many of them are still unaware of the scheme and will consider returning to Armenia after its extension.