By Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan
The Soviet-style militarized structure of the Armenian Defense Ministry is an obstacle to Armenia’s closer cooperation with NATO and should be brought closer to Western standards, a senior diplomat said on Wednesday.
Arman Hakobian, who heads the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s Department on Disarmament and International Security, said the virtual absence of civilian officials at the Defense Ministry has hampered Yerevan’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
“There are many courses, trainings and other events going on within the NATO framework,” he told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan. “They are designed for civilian officials from defense ministries such as defense analysts, planners and even historians. This stratum is non-existent in Armenia.”
“Very often our department has to try to substitute for the absence of such a civilian class. I myself have attended a few NATO events where I was the only diplomat,” Hakobian complained.
“This is a big problem for us,” he added. “If we are to embark on a reform of the security sphere we should start from revising the structure of the Defense Ministry.”
The Armenian Defense Ministry was set up in January 1992 and adopted the Soviet practice of appointing military officers to just about every position. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is among a handful of ministry officials that have no military rank.
The ministry is due to open by the end of this year a think-tank that will advise it defense and security issues. But it too will be headed by an army officer. It is not clear who else will be working there.
Armenian diplomats have long complained privately that the military is reluctant to deepen contacts with NATO for fear of upsetting Russia. Armenia, for example, has only one army officer attached to the NATO military headquarters near Brussels. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia each have several military representatives there.
Hakobian argued that the Defense Ministry’s archaic structure results from the overall lack of civilian control over the Armenian military which he said can not be justified with the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. “An army at war must be under even tighter civilian and democratic control [than in peacetime],” he said, citing Israel’s example.
In a separate development, the deputy commander of the U.S. troops in Europe, General Charles Wald, met with President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Wednesday during a two-day visit to Yerevan, the second in less than a year. Kocharian’s office said the talks focused on the growing U.S.-Armenian military cooperation as well as international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. No details were reported.
A statement by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia was also brief: “The purpose of the visit is to discuss the developing U.S. - Armenia defense relationship.”
During his previous trip to Yerevan in April 2004, Wald and the chief of the Armenian army staff, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian signed an agreement on "acquisitions and cross-servicing." It enabled the U.S. and Armenian militaries to exchange logistical support for their troops.
(Photolur photo: Kocharian greeting Wald.)