The Armenian parliament overwhelmingly passed on Friday a controversial government bill that will mostly abolish temporary exemptions from military service that have long been enjoyed by many students of state-run universities.
Draft-age male students having government scholarships have until now been allowed to perform the two-year compulsory service after completing their undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate studies. The bill put forward by the Armenian Defense Ministry will grant draft deferments only to those students who will agree to undergo parallel military training and serve in the army as officers for three years after graduation.
Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian said during parliament debates that it would close a key loophole for evading military service and reduce “corruption risks” among military and university officials. He argued that less than one-fifth of recipients of such deferments have eventually served in the army.
The proposed measure has been strongly criticized by the opposition Yelk alliance. Deputies representing the bloc say it would prevent many students from becoming scientists or scholars. They also say that the proposed change must not be enacted because it would not stop sons of many senior government officials, pro-government politicians and wealthy businesspeople from dodging military service.
Sargsian attacked Yelk leaders on Thursday, saying that they have no moral right to complain about draft evasion. He claimed that one of them, Edmon Marukian, enjoyed privileged treatment during his military service while another, Ararat Mirzoyan, avoided such service altogether despite not becoming a scientist. Both Marukian and Mirzoyan condemned the personal attacks from the minister.
Sargsian also claimed that Yelk leaders backed the idea of scrapping draft deferments when he discussed it with them several years ago. “I can only thank God for the fact that with such a worldview you are a minority, not a majority, in the parliament,” he declared.
Not surprisingly, all nine deputies representing Yelk voted against the bill. But 87 other lawmakers backed its passage in the first reading. They represent not only the ruling Republican Party and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, but also the opposition Tsarukian Bloc.
The adopted law will come into effect in January 2021, meaning that it will not apply to students who have already been granted deferments.