By Atom Markarian
Citing a need to tackle university corruption, the Armenian government moved on Thursday to abolish a legal provision that grants military service deferrals to hundreds of male graduate and doctoral students.
Under the existing legislation they are allowed to serve in the armed forces after completing their graduate studies at a state-run university. Those who obtained a doctoral degree were subsequently exempted from the two-year duty.
A new bill on compulsory military service approved by Prime Minster Andranik Markarian’s cabinet would do away with these privileges which were meant to maintain and boost the country’s standards of higher education. The proposed legislation, to be sent to parliament soon, would grant deferrals only to undergraduate students of state universities and colleges.
“Deferral will not be extended afterwards,” the chief of the Defense Ministry’s legal affairs department, Sedrak Sedrakian, said after a cabinet meeting. He said university graduates wishing to continue their studies will have to first perform their military duty along with other young men normally drafted at the age of 18.
The bill, if it is approved by the parliament, will not have a retroactive impact on current graduate and doctoral students. They will be drafted after finishing their studies. “Their knowledge will used in corresponding services of the armed forces,” Sedrakian said.
Officials pointed to the widely held belief that many of them enrolled on the state-funded graduate programs mainly to put off their draft or, in the case of doctoral students, avoid it altogether. That apparent motivation has given rise to bribery and nepotism among university authorities in charge of graduate admissions.
Deputy Justice Minister Gevorg Malkhasian described the existing rules as a “serious problem” and “source of corruption.” “A person who wants to study science may do that after serving in the army,” he said. “It will now be clear who is interested in science and who is seeking a doctoral degree to avoid military service.”
According to Malkhasian, the change was suggested by President Robert Kocharian who he said is concerned about the practice. Kocharian’s personal support for the initiative makes its passage by the National Assembly even more likely.
There was no immediate reaction from the country’s academic circles and scientific community. They have supported the deferrals in the past, arguing that promising young men with a potential to become scientists or scholars would forget much of their knowledge gained in university after the two years in the army.