Leaders of a student movement against controversial restrictions of the right to draft deferments have met with Armenian parliament members and government officials on Wednesday in a ‘roundtable discussion’ that was promised to them in exchange for the halt in their street protests last week.
The restrictions sought by the Ministry of Defense were approved by the Armenian National Assembly on November 15 and will become law upon signing by President Serzh Sarkisian.
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 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.
David Petrosian, one of the leaders of the student group, “For Science Development”, that spearheaded weeklong rallies and a boycott of classes that involved hundreds of students from Yerevan State Universities as well as some other schools of higher learning, told lawmakers and representatives of the ministries of defense and education today that instead of “taking the university to the army” they suggest “bringing the army into the university.”
In particular, students came up with two proposals that still need to be discussed by government representatives and lawmakers. They recommended that the government work out a flexible draft deferment policy that will help develop the science and education system, will ensure the continuity of the education process and at the same time will exclude corruption.
Petrosian also proposed that students be engaged in military service during their bachelor’s degree studies in universities.
“We distribute 18-month-long service during the four-year bachelor’s degree studies, and we get about four months of service during a year with two-month periods. This allows us not to take the university to the army, but to bring the army into the university. The principle of the continuity of students’ education will not be violated and at the same time students will participate in the service. It means that for four years students will be in service, at the same time they will continue their education in the university,” Petrosian said.
Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian noted that the proposed type of service is now applied in Switzerland, which he said is a country where there is no threat of war.
As for master’s degree studies, students suggest that military service be continued for six more months during post-graduate studies.
The general approach shown by government representatives was that the problem is not connected with the law, which was adopted in parliament last week, and that all issues should be regulated by government decisions and sub-legislative acts.
“We can state that there is a problem and that the discussion has been a successful one, because we hear each other, because from both sides there are common approaches and the desire to give a more comprehensive and full solution to the problem. And these mechanisms are now to be set out in government decisions and sub-legislative acts. Let’s start to work with the government together to make your recommendations documented so that they can be reflected in government decisions and sub-legislative acts. This is my suggestion. The ball is in the government’s court now,” said Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who represents the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Among those participating in the discussions was also Armenia’s Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchian.
Before the start of the roundtable its participants observed a minute’s silence in honor of three Armenian servicemen who were killed in an anti-tank mine explosion while carrying out engineering work in Nagorno-Karabakh last night.