YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan defended on Thursday his plans to increase the Armenian army’s role in public and economic life, saying that they will not lead to the country’s “militarization.”
Sargsyan made a case for building a “nation-army” on October 5, the day after he was appointed minister. He said the military should become a “locomotive of our state and economy” and stop being a “heavy burden” on state finances.
Sargsyan said on Thursday that this concept will be incorporated into the newly reshuffled Armenian government’s policy program that will be submitted to parliament for approval this or next week.
“It doesn’t mean a militarization of the society,” he told journalists. “It means that all state structures and the society must always allocate a part of their time to national defense and security by making their contributions.”
Sargsyan, 41, was the chief of President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff until he was named to run the Armenian Defense Ministry. Some critics of the ministerial appointment say that he is a civilian and has no military background.
Sargsyan dismissed the criticism. “The Defense Ministry’s main function is to ensure civilian oversight of the military and serve as a link between the army and other state structures that would have to be mobilized in case of war … So the defense minister must be a civilian, rather than a soldier,” he said.
The U.S.-educated minister spoke after opening an international arms exhibition in Yerevan together with Nikolay Bordyuzha, the outgoing secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Oleg Bochkaryov, the deputy head of a Russian government agency overseeing arms deals with foreign states also arrived in Yerevan on the occasion. He met with Sargsian before the opening ceremony of the ArmHiTec exhibition. An Armenian Defense Ministry statement said the two men agreed on the need for “further development” of Russian-Armenian military cooperation.
Russia has long been the principal sources of weapons supplied to the Armenian army. The latter demonstrated its newly acquired Russian weapons, notably Iskander missile systems, at a September 21 military parade in Yerevan.