Armenia has joined a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon with a contingent of 32 soldiers that will serve on the country’s borders with Israel and Syria under Italian command.
The troops were flown to Lebanon on Wednesday night after a ceremony at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport that was attended by Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Italy’s ambassador to Armenia, Giovanni Ricciulli. Many of them have previously participated in Western-led multinational missions in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You are going to Lebanon primarily to make your contribution to international peace and security,” Ohanian told the departing troops in a speech. He emphasized the fact that Lebanon is home to a sizable and influential Armenian community.
“Lebanon is not Kosovo or Afghanistan,” the minister went on. “Lebanon is part of the zone of Armenia’s security interests in the Middle East. So be aware that with your service in the UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) you will be contributing to Armenia’s external security.”
Ohanian described the deployment as “historic” in ensuing comments to reporters. “Our compatriots have lived on the Mediterranean cost, in Lebanon, for many years side by side with peoples of various religious. It is extremely important to maintain peace there,” he said.
“We will make every effort and use all of our skills to maintain the honor of our nation and army,” one of the soldiers told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatuyun.am) before boarding a military-transport plane with his comrades.
Plans for the Armenian deployment in Lebanon were first announced by Yerevan in June last year. Armenia’s top army general visited Italy shortly afterwards to discuss its practical modalities. The UNIFIL mission is led by an Italian general and numbers around 11,000 troops from over 30 countries.
Some 120 Armenian soldiers are currently deployed in Afghanistan, while 35 others serve in Kosovo.