Hrayr Karapetian said that Armenian soldiers die as a result of hazing and in other suspicious circumstances on a regular basis because unofficial “prison laws” regulate their relationships with commanders and fellow conscripts in many army units.
Karapetian blamed that, in part, on the enduring Soviet legacy. “The Soviet army’s seal is still imprinted on our armed forces,” he complained.
“I believe that officers and soldiers must be aware of our laws, and those laws must be enforced just like they are enforced in other spheres,” Karapetian told a news conference. “We pass laws, but they remain on paper and are not enforced.”
According to Karapetian, another reason for army crime is what he described as a slow pace of ongoing NATO-backed reforms of the Armenian military. “Those reforms are being carried out slowly and we should opt for more radical steps,” he said.
“You know, everything in life is judged by comparison Compared to neighboring states, we are in a much more combat-ready state. But that shouldn’t satisfy us.”
Karapetian, who is a senior member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also stressed the importance of educating army officers. “A serious educational and training process must get underway,” he said.
The military claims to have toughened its crackdown on hazing and other abuses within its ranks. Civic activists monitoring and protesting against army deaths dispute these assurances, however.
Some of those activists as well as senior military officials attended hearings on the issue that were held by Karapetian’s parliament committee behind the closed doors on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, several dozen people again picked the main government building in Yerevan on Thursday to demand stronger government action against non-combat deaths and allege an official cover-up of at least some of those cases investigated by military and law-enforcement authorities. The protesters, among them parents of dead soldiers, held up pictures of abuse victims.
“You must give answers for my son’s blood,” shouted one weeping woman. “He was treated brutally. I’ve been demanding justice for seven years.”
“I have three sons. I want them so serve their country but not get killed or abused in the army,” another protester told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The protesters then marched to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the National Assembly and the presidential palace in Yerevan. Some demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Sarkisian promised to pay “special attention” to criminal investigations into army deaths as he was confronted by angry soldier parents outside his office last January.
Some participants of Thursday’s protest were received by Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Gasparian, who previously headed the Armenian military police. “I bear moral responsibility for all that,” Gasparian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).