- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 31, 2003 

Army Day: Report says conditions for soldiers improving

Last Tuesday was Armenian Army Day throughout the Republic, a new holiday honoring the nation's military.

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 several times."

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 to 987.

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."


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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Talk Time

In 19 days Armenia will elect a President. Until then voters will be talked to by candidates such as Stepan Demirchyan (top). And some, such as President Robert Kocharyan (bottom), will be talked back to.



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