The Armenian parliament began debating on Wednesday a government proposal to essentially abolish temporary exemptions from military service that have long been enjoyed by many students of state-run universities.
Armenian law currently allows draft-age male students having government scholarships to perform the two-year compulsory service after completing their undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate studies.
The bill drafted by the Armenian Defense Ministry would grant draft deferments only to those students who would agree to undergo parallel military training and serve in the army as officers for three years after graduation. Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian has said that it would close a key loophole for evading military service and reduce “corruption risks” among military and university officials.
The initiative has met with criticism from some opposition politicians and sparked street protests by several dozen students in Yerevan. Critics say that the proposed change would prevent many affected students from becoming scientists or scholars.
President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed such objections on Tuesday. “A two-year service in the army has never prevented anyone from having great scientific achievements,” he said.
Defense Minister Sargsian made a similar point at the start of the parliament debates on the controversial legislation. “Those who have scientific potential can serve as officers,” he said. “Those who have no such desire can opt for a [regular] two-year service as soldiers.”
Opposition lawmakers critical of the bill remained unconvinced, however. Nikol Pashinian of the Yelk alliance said the bill will not stop sons of many senior government officials, pro-government politicians and wealthy businesspeople from dodging military service.
“Nine in ten people exempt from military service get such exemptions for [bogus] health reasons,” said Pashinian.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker from businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, also said that the bill will not affect privileged youths. She insisted that it will also not reduce bribery among officials dealing with military draft.
Still, Zohrabian and Pashinian did not specify whether they will vote for or against the bill.