Heated Discussion: Is Clergy Necessary in the Military Forces?
There is progress in the human rights protection in the Armenian military forces but many issues still need to be solved. The security of soldiers is not provided in the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the contact line. There are problems in terms of conscripts’ check-up of soldiers, social affairs of officers and so on.

Death cases in the military forces in 2015 have been published lately where there were disparities between the official information and the document published by civil institutions. According to the monitoring data of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office, 58 incidents in the Armenian military forces and Nagorno Karabakh Army caused 76 victims, 41 out of which are because of the violation of the ceasefire. Death cases were 46 in 2014.

Defense Ministry data show that there were 57 death cases in RA military forces and Nagorno Karabakh Defense Ministry in 2015 which were mainly because of border tension (sniper shootings, sabotage and other acts) – 38 death cases, 2 accidents, 1 murder, 1 suicide and 6 causing suicide cases, 4 incidents, 3 cases of death because of violation of rules of military service and 1mine explosion. 

“We presented only cases that occurred during the service at army and cases that are related to the service. The cases that have nothing to do with the service are not considered. The cases when a person was at home and had an unexpected death are of course important but are not a part of the statistics. Defense Ministry does not hide death cases and it is impossible to do,” Press Secretary of Defense Minister Artsrun Hovhannisyan said and explained the inaccuracies between NGOs and Defense Ministry.

Artsrun Hovhannisyan, Senior Assistant of RA Defense Minister Alik Avetisyan, Head of Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor Office Artur Sakunts and Member of “The Army in Reality” Initiative Zara Hovhannisyan participated in the discussion on “Protection of Human Rights in the armed forces: Summary of 2015” at Media Center on January 27. An invitation was also sent to RA Military Prosecutor but the representative of that agency did not come.

Arthur Sakunts said that the cases of death have increased since 2013. “There is a border tension but it cannot be considered a ceasefire violation. A question rises what preventive actions were held to enhance the preparedness of soldiers, to obtain technical equipment, as well as to increase the level of discipline.  

“We have no data about the quality of the medical examination,” Arthur Sakunts said.

Artsrun Hovhannisyan agreed that the quality of military service has improved but opposed to the opinion that Defense Ministry tries to hide the cases of death as “activity of the enemy or technical reasons”. 

The importance of the Institute of Military Ombudsman was also discussed which lawyers consider necessary but the Defense Ministry representatives do not give much importance.

“It is not clear if the separate ombudsman institute is necessary when we cooperate with the Ombudsman Office very efficiently. There is also a special deputy of the Ombudsman. There is a dynamic and active cooperation,” Alik Avetisyan said.  

Zara Hovhannisyan emphasized the issues of freedom of conscience and exercise of electoral right.

“I received calls that campaign and compulsory voting took place in the army. It means that the soldier is made do some things,” Zara Hovhannisyan said. She is concerned also by the presence of Armenian Apostolic Church in the army while there are “people of other faith too”. The lawyer spoke about the presence of priests in military units, which are funded by the Defense Ministry.

After a heated debate on this issue, the parties stayed in their opinion, but human rights activists criticized the fact that the clergy are financed by the Ministry of Defense budget, while the soldiers, especially officers, have social problems.  

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”

To contact the author please send an email to arshaluismghdesyan@pjc.am.

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