YEREVAN (Armradio)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian Monday visited Yerablur Cemetery to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Armenian Army and pay homage to the soldiers who fought and died during the Karabakh war.
President Kocharian was accompanied by Catholicos Karekin II, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia Tigran Torosyan, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Deputy Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, members of Government, National Assembly Deputies, and senior military officers. The President laid flowers at the memorials to the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirchyan and soldiers who died in the Karabakh liberation struggle.
"Although our Army is young, it has preformed remarkably over the years," Harutyunian said. "The Armenian army is getting stronger and more efficient with every passing year and is ready to defend the Armenian people, our state and the security of borders."
"Despite its incessant use of war rhetoric, Azerbaijan does not dare to resume hostilities and this is evidence of the growing might of our army, which is ready to rebuff any possible aggression and ensure the security of our nation," the minister said.
The minister downplayed speculations by journalists that the army is ready to shift from a conscript based army to a professional one.
"In order to have a professional army we need to have a very strong economy and a strong budget," he said. "Shifting to a contract army is also contingent on a number of other regional factors."
The minister’s remarks were in response to former president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s recent statemen’s that Armenia could have a 10,000-15,000 army.
"Armenia can not cut the army to that size because that would jeopardize the security of the nation," the minister said.
Apart from being a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Armenia participates also in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Armenia is also in the process of implementing Individual Partnership Action Plans, which it signed with NATO. IPAP is a program for those countries that have the political will and ability to deepen their relationship with NATO, Harutyunyan explained.
In late 2004, Armenia deployed a unit of 46 soldiers, which included logistic, medical and support soldiers to Iraq in support of the American-led Coalition. Armenia is also involved in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, joining the peacekeeping activities in 2004, the 34-member Armenian "blue helmets" platoon serves in Kosovo as a part of the Greek battalion.
Armenia’s military budget for 2008 is set to increase by 20 percent to 124.366 billion drams (about $380 million).
"We must first create a corresponding economy, a state that will have the opportunity to recruit professional servicemen," Harutynyan said.
According to him, the situation in the region is unstable and Armenia is a small state that still does not have the necessary resources and bases to shift to a professional standing army.
"Some politicians declare that it is possible to decrease the army to 10 thousand in a short period of time," he added. "But they do not understand that it will put our state at risk. "The army is the main guarantor of our national security."