Leaders of a student movement protesting against a controversial law restricting the rights of young men to draft deferments for academic purposes have declared a halt in their weeklong protests after agreeing with a senior parliamentarian on the organization of a relevant roundtable discussion next week.
The decision was announced by David Petrosian, a leading activist involved in the protests, after his and four other protesters’ meeting with Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy speaker of parliament and senior member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Representatives of the HHK and its junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutyun, which enjoy a comfortable majority in the 105-seat National Assembly, voted 86 to 6 to pass the controversial bill in the second and final reading at a session earlier today. The only votes against the bill came from the opposition Yelk faction.
Under the legislation, in order to get a draft deferment all male students who want to pursue their studies must sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense and agree to serve three years in the military after completing their studies at the location chosen by the Ministry. Otherwise, the legislation stipulates, the students will be drafted to the army once they attain the age of 18 to serve for two years.
Critics of the legislation argue that the measure will discourage a lot of students from pursuing scientific careers and will eventually harm the development of science in the country. Proponents of the law, including Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian, see no such risks. They point out that the law will give a fairer treatment to all students and will reduce corruption by closing a key loophole to avoiding compulsory military service.
Students who have participated in protests since November 7, including the boycotting of classes and hunger strikes, delegated five representatives for a meeting with lawmakers inside the National Assembly after rallying there for several hours.
After emerging from the meeting that was held behind closed doors activist Petrosian and deputy parliament speaker Sharmazanov announced that a roundtable discussion with the participation of all stakeholders will be held on November 22.
“We have discussed three main things. The guys proposed a roundtable discussion and we as the National Assembly, a body for dialogue, are ready to engage in it,” said Sharmazanov. “This roundtable discussion will be attended by all stakeholders, including scientists, scholars and lecturers named by these students. Both the issue of draft deferments and various other issues of concern to students will be discussed. All that will be public and transparent. Today we have proved that we are ready to listen to every citizen of the Republic of Armenia and particularly our students.”
Sharmazanov said that they, at the same time, asked the protesters to stop their boycotting of classes, demonstrations and hunger strikes “because we are entering a constructive phase.”
The senior lawmaker said that a lot of things envisaged by the law will have to be elaborated in government decisions and that an offer was made to members of the student group to make relevant proposals.
Petrosian, for his part, said: “We are trying to be as constructive as possible and contribute to the formation of our civil, political culture. And our top goal is to have a positive impact. At this moment we consider this to be the best option among possible options and declare that all those people who would like to be present at the round table as our representatives can contact us. We are ready to sit down with everyone to discuss the format so that people who really have arguments can have an opportunity to present them.”
“As for the hunger strike, the hunger strike was, of course, a means to make our voice heard. At this moment, this means has worked and that’s why it is necessary to stop it and get ready for the round table,” he added.
To the question whether there will be further protests, Petrosian said: “If there is an arrangement about a roundtable discussion… What will be after the round table will be after the round table… The boycotting of classes until the round table is halted.”