Armenian law requires virtually all men aged between 18 and 27 to serve in the armed forces for two years. A Defense Ministry bill circulated last month would shorten this period to just four and a half months for draftees paying the state 24 million drams ($60,000).
Representatives of the country’s leading opposition forces have condemned the proposed arrangement as unfair and dangerous for national security. They have warned of the emergence of a new social division in the country.
Pashinian dismissed the criticism late last week. He said the bill, which has yet to be formally approved by his cabinet, is consistent with his pledges to gradually make the Armenia’s conscription-based military fully “professional.”
“One gets the impression that before this law everyone served in the military regardless of his social class. Let us confess that at some point only representatives of the socially vulnerable strata served on the frontline.”
“With the money paid by one conscript we would be able to have one or two highly skilled and professional soldiers,” he said.
“There is no bill on 24 million drams, there is a bill on transition to a professional army,” Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security, claimed on Monday.
Kocharian could not come up with any estimates of the percentage of conscripts who would likely pay the hefty fee and the number of new contract soldiers that would be attracted with that money.
In an explanatory note attached to the bill, the Defense Ministry said proceeds from this scheme would be used for at least doubling the wages of the Armenian army’s contract soldiers. This, it said, would also make volunteer military service more attractive to other citizens.
Seyran Ohanian, a former defense minister and senior lawmaker from the main opposition Hayastan alliance, again dismissed this line of reasoning. He insisted that pay rises for military personnel could and should be financed from the state budget.
Ohanian also said that Armenia cannot afford such an arrangement given the grave security challenges facing it.
“For example, Israel is a country like ours, surrounded by adversaries,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Why is it that they have full conscription and even draft women?”
“Also, many European countries where [security] issues have emerged of late now want to restore compulsory military service, whereas our authorities want to abolish compulsory service,” argued the retired general.