Last Tuesday was Armenian Army Day throughout
the Republic, a new holiday honoring the nation's
Officers visited Yerablur Memorial graves of
war heroes and Minister of Defense Serge Sargsyan
made a speech assuring that the 11th standing
army of Armenia is capable of national defense.
But the holiday was without festivities, as Sargsyan
said a decision was reached to not have mass celebrations
to avoid having the day politicized during this
Presidential election season.
President Robert Kocharyan sent messages of thanks
to Army officials and made a visit to a military
unit during a campaign stop in Armavir. There,
the President told an audience:
"We will continue to pay serious attention
to our army. And here are two small figures which
are indicative of that. The salaries of officers
have increased 2.5 times during the past five
years and the number of murders in the army decreased
Kocharyan's statement concerning the historically
alarming number of non-combative deaths was in
reference to a report recently issued by Military
Prosecutor Gagik Jhangiryan.
The report shows a dramatic decrease in crimes
within military units, decreasing by nearly half
between 1998 and last year - from 1,922 crimes
The number of soldier deaths (frequently caused
by soldiers attacking each other) decreased from
177 in 1998 to 62 last year.
"Our army is 11 years old and it's natural
that it is not without shortcomings that the society
has, while crime is an objective companion of
the society," Jhangiryan said. "Still
in the army crimes are being committed."
Avetik Ishkhanyan, president of the Helsinki
Committee of Armenia rejects the implication that
crimes committed within the army are reflective
of crime among the general population.
"If we take that point of view, then is
the corrupted authority a reflection of the society,"
says Ishkhanyan, whose organization has advocated
for soldiers' rights. "I think that it is
a way to justify (the problem)."
The military prosecutor admits that "dedovshina"
is prevalent in the Armenian Army.
Rooted in a Russian word, "dedovshina"
essentially defines the condition in which soldiers
who have served longer terms become the unofficial
leaders in units. They then create something like
gang conditions, in which newer recruits are bullied
to pay bribes and are often physically assaulted
to assure their compliance.
"The administrative system of the Ministry
of Defense is doing its best to reduce relations
not corresponding to regulations," Jhangiryan
said, adding that "dedovshina" is a
heritage of the Soviet Army.
Again, the human rights advocate bristles at the
explanation for unacceptable conditions.
"Apart from the Soviet "dedovshina"
our Army has imported colonial orders," Ishkhanyan
says. "What a phenomenon is that? Isn't it
caused by the fact that many of the commanding
staff had criminal past?"
Not excluding the trend of decreasing numbers
of crimes in the army, Ishkhanyan says: "In
the given case we deal with human lives and not
statistics. The death of each soldier is a tragedy
and the number 62 is horrible for me."