By Ruzanna Khachatrian
More than two thousand university students rallied in Yerevan on Friday to celebrate what they see as a victory in their battle with the government over a draft law on military service that would end their privileges.
They also demanded “personal guarantees” from President Robert Kocharian that the controversial government bill, recalled from parliament on Thursday, will not be reintroduced later on.
“This is your victory and I congratulate you on it,” one of the student leaders told the jubilant crowd.
“We have proved that the students are a real force that can not be ignored,” said another speaker.
The rally speakers refused to identify themselves, saying that they fear government retribution for a week-long boycott of university classes organized by them. “Any student is dependent to varying degrees on the university authorities and can be pressed or affected by them in one way or another,” one young man explained.
Kocharian’s office has not yet commented on the acrimonious row. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian spoke with the Armenian president before announcing the bill’s withdrawal at a weekly cabinet session. Officials said the government will try to reach consensus with the students and university chiefs. The latter are also critical of the proposed legislation that would allow the Armenian military to draft male graduates of state-run universities who wish to study for a master’s degree or a doctorate.
Under the existing law they can complete their post-graduate studies before performing the two-year military duty along with other male citizens.
The students said they will keep up pressure on the authorities to make sure that their demands are fully met. They plan to march to the parliament building in Yerevan on Monday.
The protesters also demanded the resignation of Science and Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian for not fighting their corner. Yeritsian has kept a very low profile in the dispute and was harshly criticized on Thursday by Markarian for the “self-isolation.”
But Yeristian’s posture was strongly defended by Artur Baghdasarian, the parliament speaker and the leader of the Orinats Yerkir party of which the minister is a member. “Why aren’t they demanding the resignation of other people? I leave it to you to make comments,” Baghdasarian told reporters. “The draft was submitted [to parliament] not by the Education Ministry but the government, the Defense Ministry in particular.”