The Armenian Ministry of Defence has put forward proposals to allow conscripts to avoid most of their military service in exchange for ֏24 million ($61,000).
The bill, which was submitted for public debate on Wednesday, would allow wealthier Armenians to serve for just 4.5 months, instead of the usual two years.
The ministry explained that the ‘logic’ behind the move was that ֏24 million would be enough to pay a contract soldier ֏400,000 ($1,000) per month for five years.
The ministry said that increasing pay for contract soldiers was ‘the most important motivational component of introducing a professional military service system’.
A scheme in which conscripts can extend their service to three years in exchange for a monthly $100 stipend and certain other benefits has failed to attract candidates. There are currently only three people taking part in the programme, with no new applicants between 2021 and 2022.
The ministry said it wanted to replace the programme with 5-year paid service contracts, the money for which is expected to come from payments for early discharge.
The bill has been met with harsh criticism among many in Armenia. Daniel Ioannisyan, a local democracy watchdog, called the bill a ‘shamefully bad idea’ that will ‘deepen social stagnation and will negatively affect security, public solidarity, and justice’. Ioannisyan assumed that the bill might cause more ‘polarisation’ and even ‘socially based hatred’.
‘There is a problem with social rights in the country. Many things can or are forgiven to the rich (thanks to ties, corruption, expensive attorneys, amounts of fines, etc.) that are not forgiven to the poor’. Ioannisyan wrote on Facebook, ‘This project only legitimises this inequality, and essentially it turns out that “yes, the rich are truly privileged”’.
Andranik Shirinyan, an Armenia-based coordinator at Freedom House, called the bill ‘antisocial’ in a post on Facebook.
‘This is just a privilege of the rich in a country where around 30% of the population lives in poverty’.
Shirinyan wrote that this might also be seen as an indication that the government was not able to fight corruption in the military and was instead ‘legitimising’ it.