The Armenian government made clear on Tuesday that will not significantly amend its controversial bill on raising financial compensations to the families of soldiers killed or seriously wounded in action.
The bill passed by the National Assembly in the first reading last month allows the closest relatives of soldiers who die or become gravely disabled while on combat duty to receive 10 million drams ($21,000). Wounded soldiers suffering from less serious disabilities will be paid 5 million drams.
In addition to these one-off payouts, the families of killed or maimed army officers, contract soldiers and conscripts would receive monthly pensions ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 drams for 20 years.
The compensation scheme would be financed from a special fund to which every working Armenian would contribute 1,000 drams (just over $2) per month.
The new tax prompted criticism from opposition politicians, civil society activists and other critics of the government who consider it unfair. Officials said later in November that the government is now considering amending the bill in response to the criticism. In particular, they said, the controversial tax could be made optional.
Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian ruled out such a possibility, however, as the parliament began debating the bill in the second reading on Tuesday. He defended the compensation scheme, saying that it will give Armenians a legal avenue for demonstrating their strong support for the national armed forces.
“As was the case last time, I want to ask everyone to be very attentive in this [parliament] vote,” Sargsian told lawmakers. “Every vote for [the bill] is very important and I will be very grateful if those who cannot support this bill for some reason abstain or do not vote at all.”
Edmon Marukian, an opposition deputy critical of the scheme, rejected the appeal. “Let there be no impression that those who voted against and abstained or do not support this idea are not patriots or care less about wounded soldiers,” he said.
Marukian also complained that the government has refused to accept any of the key amendments to the bill submitted by its critics.