By Armen Zakarian
The planned dispatch of a small Armenian army contingent to the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo on Yerevan’s first-ever peace-keeping mission abroad has been scheduled for next January, Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian said on Thursday.
The announcement came at the end of a visit to Armenia by Aghabekian’s Greek counterpart Lazaros Lotidis whose government has helped to train the platoon of 30 Armenian servicemen that will be incorporated into a Greek peace-keeping battalion already deployed in Kosovo.
Aghabekian told reporters that the Armenian military will need to get final clearance from parliament and the Constitutional Court before sending the troops to the restive region. But with President Robert Kocharian personally sanctioning the landmark dispatch, that appears to be a mere formality.
Plans for the Armenian troop deployment were formalized in Yerevan in early September by the chiefs of staff of Armenia’s and Greece’s armed forces. Kosovo, a former autonomous region in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia, has been run as a U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO bombing ended Serbian crackdown on its predominantly ethnic Albanian population. Most of the tens of thousands of peace-keepers stationed there come from NATO member states, including Greece.
The fact that the Armenian soldiers will be serving under Greek command underscores growing military ties between the two countries that share a common interest in containing Turkish influence in the region. They were reaffirmed during Lotidis’s talks with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian officials.
The two sides signed a program of Greek-Armenian military cooperation for next year, which Aghabekian said will involve eight “joint activities” to be held in both countries. He declined to specify them, saying only that the two militaries will continue to concentrate on military-technical cooperation and training of Armenian army personnel. He noted in that regard that “dozens” of Armenian cadets currently study at Greek military academies.