The Armenian Defense Ministry issued a stern warning to the wife of former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian on Monday after she seemingly accused his successor, Vigen Sargsian, of evading compulsory military service.
In a weekend Facebook post, Ruzanna Khachatrian attacked an unnamed “high-ranking official” who has spoken out against draft evasion of late. Khachatrian said she has known him for 25 years and remembers “how he was evading military service and how the military police were hunting for him” in 1999. The official, she said, was “saved from punishment” by his girlfriend who worked as an advisor to a “senior military official” at the time.
“And now he, shaking his finger from various podiums as a great ‘philosopher,’ a great ‘teacher,’ is trying to give mentoring advice and admonitions to the younger generations,” wrote Khachatrian.
The opposition Yelk alliance was quick to seize upon the extraordinary attack, suggesting that it was directed at Defense Minister Sargsian, who replaced Ohanian one year ago.
Sargsian repeatedly stressed the need to close legal loopholes to draft evasion during last week’s parliament debates on a government bill that will mostly abolish draft deferments enjoyed by male students of Armenian universities. Yelk’s parliamentary faction voted against the bill, saying that the authorities must first ensure that senior government officials and their relatives are no longer able to wriggle out of the two-year service.
One of Yelk’s leaders, Nikol Pashinian, demanded on Monday that the Sargsian give “very clear explanations” about why he was not drafted when he turned 18.
According to the 42-year-old minister’s official biography, he studied at a state college in Russia from 1992-1996 and served in the Armenian armed forces as an officer after graduating from the U.S. Fletcher School of Diplomacy in 2000. From 2000 through 2003 Sargsian was an assistant to then Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, also reacted to Khachatrian’s claims. In that regard, he pointed to articles of Armenia’s civil and criminal codes dealing with “defamation,” “insults” and “false denunciation.” Hovannisian also insisted on his Facebook page that Sargsian had never evaded military or been wanted by law-enforcement authorities on corresponding charges.
Shortly after he was sacked as defense minister in October 2016, Ohanian began publicly criticizing the Armenian government and its track record. He ran in the April 2017 parliamentary elections as one of the leaders of the ORO opposition alliance. ORO failed to win any seats in the National Assembly.
Neither Ohanian nor his wife could be reached for comment on Monday.