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Armenian Protesters Propose Students Serve In Military While In School

Armenian students in Yerevan protesting last week against government plans to mostly abolish military draft deferments
Armenian students in Yerevan protesting last week against government plans to mostly abolish military draft deferments

Armenian draft protesters proposed that students be allowed to serve in the military for several months a year while studying in universities as a way of carrying out Armenia's new military draft system.

The proposal was presented during a roundtable discussion on November 22 that parliament members and Armenian defense and education officials agreed to hold with the protesters in exchange for their halting street protests against the draft last week.

David Petrosian, one of the leaders of the “For Science Development” protest group that spearheaded weeklong rallies and a boycott of classes at Yerevan State University and other schools, suggested to the roundtable that his plan was a way of "bringing the army into the university.”

Petrosian's plan would apply to students pursuing bachelor’s degrees as well as masters degrees at Armenian universities.

He said students would be able to fit in about four months of military service during each school year, scheduling two separate two-month periods of service.

"This allows us not to take the university to the army, but to bring the army into the university," he said.

Petrosian argued that under his plan, "the principle of the continuity of students’ education will not be violated, and at the same time students will participate in the service."

The proposal was in response to legislation curbing student deferments of the military draft that was approved by the Armenian National Assembly on November 15 and will become law upon signing by President Serzh Sarkisian.

Under the legislation, to get a draft deferment, all male students must sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense and agree to serve three years in the military after completing their studies. Otherwise, the young men will be drafted to serve for two years once they turn 18.

The new restrictions on student deferments were sought by the Armenian Ministry of Defense, which argues they are needed to close a key loophole used to avoid compulsory military service as well as to ensure all young men are treated equally.

The student protesters and other critics of the law say it will discourage students from pursuing scientific careers and will eventually harm the development of science in the country.

Defense officials and lawmakers at the roundtable seemed open to the Petrosian plan as a way of easing the problems raised by students with the new system.

Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian noted that Petrosian's proposal is similar to a system now used in Switzerland, though he added that is a country where there is no threat of war.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who represented the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, said "the discussion has been a successful one, because we hear each other, because from both sides there are common approaches and the desire to give a more comprehensive and full solution to the problem" raised by students.

Sharmazanov suggested that the government could take the students' ideas into account in carrying out the new law.

"The ball is in the government’s court now,” he said. "Let’s start to work with the government together to make your recommendations documented so that they can be reflected in government decisions and sub-legislative acts. This is my suggestion."

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