The Armenian government will not refrain from essentially abolishing temporary exemptions from compulsory military service, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian told on Wednesday university students protesting against the planned measure.
Mkrtchian met with representatives of the students as they boycotted classes for a second day in protest against a relevant government bill passed by the Armenian parliament in the first reading.
Over 200 students rallied outside the main Yerevan State University building and marched through the city center before the meeting.
“When it comes to serving the homeland, no citizen of the Republic of Armenia will have privileges,” Mkrtchian told several organizers of the continuing protests.
The minister repeated his arguments that over 85 percent of male students of state-run universities are already drafted to the armed forces at the age of 18 because they pay tuition fees unlike the other students who study for free.
The latter have until now been allowed to perform the two-year service after completing their undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate studies. Those obtaining doctoral degrees have been exempt from military duty altogether.
The controversial bill drafted by the Defense Ministry would grant 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. The protesting students say that without deferments they would find it much harder to become scientists or scholars.
Mkrtchian dismissed such assertions, arguing that only a small percentage of Armenian students temporarily or permanently exempt from conscription have pursued academic or scientific careers. “There is quite strong political support behind [the bill] … I don’t think that this bill is subject to withdrawal,” he said.
The protest organizers made clear, meanwhile, that they will continue the boycott until the government meets their demands which are backed by some Armenian opposition leaders.
The protesters on Wednesday again tried unsuccessfully to enter YSU premises and get more students to join their campaign. Entrance doors of those buildings remained locked from inside, with the university administration apparently seeking to contain the boycott.
At least one YSU professor, Karen Saghatelian, condemned the shutdown and joined the protesters.