Why Armenian youths avoid military service

Mamikon Babayan, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Why Armenian youths avoid military service

Last week, a resounding incident involving a group of servicemen in the Meghri military unit in southern Armenia was another reason to discuss the situation in the republic’s armed forces. Armenian media reported that the soldiers started a riot, thereby expressing dissatisfaction with the behavior of some officers. The military leadership's reaction was hasty: spokesman of the Ministry of Defense Artsrun Hovhannisyan has issued a statement on his Facebook page, calling the incident an attempt by several undisciplined servicemen to establish 'the 1990s rules', serve on special conditions, put on special clothes and eat separately.

By the way, the incident would not receive wide publicity, if it wasn't for one serviceman's confession to his mother that a riot was arranged by soldiers against one of the officers. In any case, the blatant situation has harmed the already low reputation of the Armenian Armed Forces. The Armenian army has not been reformed since the collapse of the USSR, it has not become prestigious to serve in its ranks, because the Armenian Armed Forces have absorbed many remnants of the past, including corruption and hazing.

For many years, they have been talking in Armenia about the preservation of the so-called corruption risks during the military conscription. Conscripts avoid military service due to impressive bribes, as a result of which members of the army conscription commission can commit a banal forgery of medical documents, when a healthy young man can find symptoms of intolerable allergy. Some young people dodge military service with the help of their tricky parents who resort to corrupt schemes, including buying a delay on account of studies. In such cases a notice paper may not even be handed to the recruit.

However, it's too luxury for ordinary citizens. The long-term blockade and the difficult socio-economic situation have led to the fact that middle class practically doesn't exist in the country. Armenia is a country with a predominantly poor population. People are concerned that sons of high-ranking officials do not serve in the army due to their "exceptional achievements." Thus, former Prime Minister and First Deputy Chairman of the once-ruling Republican Party of Armenia Karen Karapetyan's sons, former Energy Minister Yervand Zakaryan's son Artak, former Agriculture Minister Ignatiy Arakelyan's son Eduard, former Minister for Territorial Administration David Lokyan's son Sergey didn't see duty. The sons and relatives of well-known MPs from the Tsarukyan bloc also avoided the military service: ex-mayor of Gyumri Vardan Gukasyan's son Spartak and  Gagik Tsarukyan's son-in-law Karapet Guloyan.

Advantaged children have more opportunities to receive higher education to avoid military service quite legally. It is noteworthy that current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sent his son Ashot to the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh as a demonstrative gesture, deciding to support his image of a  close to common people fighter again retrograde practices.

Any escalation in the Karabakh conflict zone is fraught with the death of a few dozen servicemen in just one day, and the absolute majority often comes from poor families. The 2016 military clashes on the contact line were particularly bloody, shaking the Armenian society. At the same time, there was a sharp increase in the departure of young people of draft age abroad. None of the sons of Armenian deputies, mayors or ministers was seen in the conflict zone during the fighting.

Armenia still lacks a clear system of breakout of privates by type of troops. It remains unclear on what basis the breakout is made and whether it is affected by the civic specialty of recruits. Parents of young men do not understand why some children are sent into motorized rifle units and find themselves on the front lines, while others serve in artillery branches, radio communications or air defense, and some even remain in the territory remote from the border. The question was raised more than once in Armenia of where and how the sons of former Justice Minister David Harutyunyan, former Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, as well as former Parliament Speaker Ary Babloyan did their military service.

The Armenian army's problems have become indicators of the stratification of society, and the authorities' response to the Megri events, which just shifted the responsibility to ordinary soldiers, wasn't a surprise.