The Armenian military has begun a nationwide call-up of reservists for training and exercises which military officials in Yerevan say will be more regular and intensive from now on.
Thousands of reserve troops are due to spend roughly one week in military camps this year to refresh and improve their combat skills.
The first group of reservists, all of them sappers and army engineers, began on Saturday weeklong exercises involving heavy demining equipment at a military training center about 40 southwest of Yerevan. Military officials say other reserve forces will be called up in the following weeks and months.
In a weekend statement, the Armenian Defense Ministry described the drills as a “planned event” stemming from Armenia’s law on military service. It said they are meant to “upgrade the combat skills of reserve personnel” and raise “the level of mobilization readiness in the Republic of Armenia.”
The ministry spokesman, Davit Karapetian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the Armenian army command has decided to hold reserve drills on a more “regular” basis. He said they will also be more intensive than in the past.
Karapetian denied any “direct connection” between the exercises and what some Western officials and regional analysts see as an increased risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. But he said Armenia’s Armed Forces must be prepared to give an “adequate response” to possible “changes in the security environment.”
Talk of renewed fighting in the conflict zone has intensified over the past year amid more frequent deadly skirmishes reported from the main Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s leaders have also continued to threaten to win back the disputed territory and surrounding areas by force.
An Azerbaijani state-controlled organization highlighted those threats on Tuesday when it launched sniper courses for young people, including girls. The AFP news agency reported that civilian participants will also learn about fighting techniques, weaponry, map-reading skills and legal issues.
The previous Armenian reserve mobilization was announced in March last year. The Defense Ministry said at the time that it wants to make sure that “every duty-bound Armenian man knows his place and function in the military” in case of a large-scale armed conflict.
In a separate development, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian marked on Tuesday International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action with a visit to a demining center near Yerevan that was set up in 2002 with U.S. financial and technical assistance.
According to the Defense Ministry, the center has since demined more than 200 hectares of land in Armenian border regions and trained about 140 Armenian military personnel.