Armenia’s government approved on June 23 a three-month call-up of more than 1,440 army reservists which will start on August 1. It cited the need to reinforce the armed forces with skilled and combat-ready personnel.
Representatives of the main opposition Hayastan alliance said late last week that scores of its male members and supporters have since received military call-up papers. They said that the authorities are thus trying to punish active participants of the regular rallies and discourage other Armenians from joining more street protests planned for the coming weeks.
Speaking in the Armenian parliament, Papikian complained that Seyran Ohanian, a former defense minister who now leads Hayastan’s parliamentary group, has phoned the military’s top enlistment officer to demand an end to the alleged mass recruitment of opposition youths.
“Are you citizens of the Republic of Armenia or not?” a visibly irritated Papikian said, appealing to the opposition. “Did the defense minister order that? Even if such things have happened in the past, they are not happening on our watch.”
“Secondly, next time do not reserve the right to call military officials or make covert appeals to them because such calls can lead to legal liability,” he warned.
The Armenian military has not been accused in the past of trying to draft opposition members or supporters en masse for political reasons.
Ohanian dismissed Papikian’s criticism, saying that Armenian law allows parliament deputies to demand explanations from state officials both orally and in writing. He said he simply asked the country’s chief military commissar to clarify whether he really ordered his subordinates to target oppositionists.
“Military mobilization cannot be selective,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The retired general also pointed to what he regards as an illegal instruction which a senior pro-government lawmaker publicly issued on May 5 five days after the Armenian opposition began daily street protests aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, suggested that many of the protesters detained by riot police evade compulsory military service or periodical call-ups of army reservists. Speaking at a committee meeting in Yerevan, Kocharian said law-enforcement agencies should “collect personal data of these citizens and pass them on to the Armenian Defense Ministry.”
High-ranking police and military officials attending the meeting backed the idea condemned by human rights activists.
“What legal norms are they talking about?” said Ohanian. “People who committed crimes during their military service are talking about that. They had better do their job.”
The opposition leader apparently referred to Papikian’s criminal record disclosed by an Armenian newspaper in early 2020.
The Hraparak daily reported that Papikian, who served as a minister for local government at the time, had been sentenced to more than 2 years in prison in 2006 for stabbing his commander during compulsory military service. It said that he was released from prison a year later.
Papikian, who is a senior member of the ruling Civil Contract party, admitted the criminal conviction while condemning the newspaper report as an intrusion into his personal life.