Responding to a recent spate of non-combat deaths within its ranks, the Armenian military unveiled on Tuesday a bill allowing soldiers to challenge controversial orders issued by their immediate commanders.
The proposed measure is part of the army’s new Disciplinary Code drafted by the Defense Ministry and submitted to the National Assembly for approval. It stipulates that soldiers can complain to more high-ranking officers against decisions that “evidently contradict” Armenia’s constitution and laws.
The proposed legislation does not specify whether army conscripts and other junior servicemen must obey illegal orders before lodging complaints. It says instead that they can not protest against such orders during combat duty, armed guard and training exercises.
Another important provision of the code would replace the Soviet-era practice of putting delinquent soldiers to under arrest for up to a week by compulsory service in special “disciplinary companies.”
Deputy Defense Minister Armen Nazarian, who presented the draft code to the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, acknowledged that it is connected with a series of deadly shootings that rocked the Armenian army in late July and August. “It has to do with the recent incidents,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
In one of those incidents, a 30-year-old lieutenant, Artak Nazarian, was found dead near the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Military investigators say Nazarian committed suicide after being badly ill-treated by a deputy commander of his battalion and three soldiers. However, the officer’s relatives believe that he was killed by fellow servicemen.
Nazarian died the day before another officer and five soldiers serving at an army unit in Nagorno-Karabakh were shot dead in similarly unclear circumstances. Military authorities say one of those soldiers went on a shooting spree and killed himself after a bitter dispute with the officer.
The shock deaths cast a renewed spotlight on chronic abuse, corruption and mismanagement within Armenia’s Armed Forces. Eight senior and mid-level officers were dismissed and more than a dozen others demoted as a result.
Speaking during a hearing at the parliament committee, Nazarian said the Disciplinary Code, if passed by the parliament, will help to tackle the problem. Hrayr Karapetian, the committee chairman, largely agreed but said the bill needs to undergo some changes. He said it should specify procedures for appealing against commander orders and the rights and responsibilities of high-level army officers.
Deputy parliament speaker Samvel Nikoyan also gave a cautious welcome to the military’s initiative. “This will contribute to the strengthening of lawful relationships within the armed forces,” he told RFE/RL. “To say that this will solve all problems would be wrong. We are not naïve to think so. The law must be consistently enforced.”
But Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner who has been closely monitoring army crime, was far more skeptical, saying that the proposed bill is too vague. “I think is an attempt to form a particular public opinion in connection with the recent incidents,” he said after the committee hearing. “An unsuccessful one, I must say.”