The number of Armenian soldiers who died in action and non-combat circumstances fell by 33 percent to 36 last year, Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, Gevorg Kostanian, said on Thursday.
Kostanian attributed that to an even sharper drop in non-combat deaths reported by the military.
According to official data publicized by the prosecutor, 26 soldiers committed suicide, were killed by fellow servicemen and died from diseases or in various accidents in 2010, down from 43 such cases reported in 2010.
The ten other soldiers were shot dead in skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces. Most of those incidents apparently occurred along the heavily militarized “line of contact” east and north of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Kostanian said the lower non-combat death toll was the result of tougher “preemptive and punitive measures” taken by the army command and military prosecutors.
The Armenian military and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian promised a tougher crackdown on hazing and other army crimes as the chronic problem gained a greater public resonance in late 2010. Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted since then.
However, civic activists monitoring army crimes insist that the Defense Ministry is still not doing enough to tackle the problem. They also continue to accuse military authorities of failing to properly investigate soldier deaths.
In particular, the military is accused of portraying murders as suicides. Relatives of some of the soldiers who purportedly killed themselves regularly demonstrate outside the main government building in Yerevan, alleging an official cover-up.
“If a single murder was indeed presented as a suicide, I will immediately resign,” Kostanian told a news conference. “There is no way a murder could have been presented as a murder. That’s impossible.”
“If people prefer to act on the emotional plane, I can understand them. But for all my sincere sympathy for their gloss I often cannot agree with their claims,” he said of the protesters.
According to the military prosecutors, only two murders were committed within the army ranks last year, down from 17 such cases in 2010.