Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian urged Armenian media on Tuesday to stop questioning his past military service, reiterating that he had never evaded conscription.
The issue came under the spotlight during last week’s parliamentary debates on a Defense Ministry bill that will essentially abolish draft deferments enjoyed by male students of state-run universities. Opposition lawmakers who voted against the bill said 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.
Some of those lawmakers as well as media outlets critical of the Armenian government specifically cast doubt on official records showing that Sargsian technically served in the armed forces in 2000-2003 when he was an assistant to then Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The wife of Sargsian’s predecessor Seyran Ohanian added to the controversy over the weekend, attacking an unnamed “high-ranking official” who evaded draft in the 1990s.Ruzanna Khachatrian’s claim was widely construed as reference to the current minister who replaced her husband one year ago.
An Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman responded on Monday by implicitly warning that Khachatrian could risk being held accountable for slander and “false denunciation.”
Khachatrian doubled down on her attacks later on Monday, however. In another cryptic Facebook post, she claimed that with his potbellied physique the official in question resembles a “woman who is seven or eight months pregnant” and “his lips are like Kim Kardashian’s lips.”
Sargsian would not say on Tuesday when he thinks Ohanian’s wife referred to him. “I don’t know,” he told reporters. “I guess you should ask her.”
“Why don’t you close this topic?” the 42-year-old minister went on. “I repeat that I served in the armed forces in a manner defined by the law and I’m very proud of that. I don’t blame those people who don’t realize that there are different types of military service and that the proposed legislation opens up such opportunities for many young people.”
“I think that our discourse has to change and you should play a role in changing it,” he said.