Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisted on Thursday that the number of serious crimes committed in Armenia’s armed forces has been steadily declining as he was confronted by angry parents of dead soldiers demonstrating in Yerevan.
The demonstrators surrounded Ohanian as soon as he emerged from the Armenian government building after attending a weekly session of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet. “Why were our children killed?” cried one woman.
“Criminal cases have been opened, and law-enforcement bodies are dealing with them,” said Ohanian. “There is not one single case where the circle of guilty individuals has not been identified or no individuals have been arrested.”
“While jointly enduring this pain and tragedy, we just need to be a little patient and let law-enforcers finish their job,” he said.
“Although every [non-combat death] causes us pain and every person’s death is a tragedy for us, their number is falling every year,” added the minister.
“Why should we have any numbers at all in the conditions of peace?” countered one protester.
“There was and there is no atmosphere of impunity in the army,” replied Ohanian. “Everyone gets their deserved punishment.”
This assertion will be disputed by civic activists monitoring army crime and parents of at least some of the soldiers who have died as a result of hazing and in other non-combat circumstances. They have accused military investigators of mishandling or even covering up those cases.
Ohanian offered to hold separate meetings with the protesting parents and discuss their grievances in detail.
Faced with a mounting public uproar, Ohanian has repeatedly promised a tougher crackdown on hazing and other abuses within the army ranks over the past year. The Armenian military has arrested, fired or demoted dozens of officers.
Hrayr Karapetian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security, said last week that the military is still not doing enough to address the problem. He said more radical defense reforms are needed to eliminate its root causes.