YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Artur Aghabekian, a retired army general who chairs the Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security, on Tuesday spoke out against government plans to abolish temporary exemptions from military service enjoyed by university students.
Armenian law allows draft-age men enrolled in state-run universities to perform the two-year compulsory service after completing their undergraduate and/or graduate studies. The government has reportedly drafted legal amendmen’s that will scrap the defermen’s. They have not yet been submitted to the National Assembly and, in particular, its standing committee headed by Aghabekian, who is a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Parliamentary Faction.
“I am opposed to that,” Aghabekian told journalists. “I did not express my opposition one day or one week ago. I was always against the passage of such a law, even when I occupied the post of deputy defense minister.”
“Having concerns, I have written to the defense minister and the secretary of the National Security Council, urging them to prevent that initiative from becoming a draft law,” he said.
Some Armenian officials have said the measure is needed because Armenia’s conscription-based army will increasingly face personnel shortages as it begins to draft young men born in the early 1990s. The country’s population and birth rate sharply declined during those years because of the collapse of the Armenian economy and the resulting mass out-migration of hundreds of thousands of its citizens.
Critics say scrapping the defermen’s would not be a fundamental solution to the problem. They say that instead of recruiting 18-year-old students, the Armenian military should increase the number of personnel serving on a contractual basis.