Armenian Government Approves Amnesty for Draft Dodgers

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government has formally approved a parliament bill that will offer young men who have evaded compulsory military service the option of buying a legal pardon–officials said on Wednesday.

The bill–passed by the National Assembly in the first reading last November–will exempt the fugitive draft dodgers who are 27 and older from criminal prosecution in exchange for a hefty fee. Those who have spent ten years on the run will–for example–have to pay 2 million drams ($3,500) to avoid imprisonment.

The legislation was drafted by Vahan Hovhannisian who chaired the Defense and Security Committee of the previous parliament. In order for the legislation to come into force–it needs to be approved by the current legislature in the second and possibly the third readings.

Hovhannisian–who is now the parliament’s deputy speaker–said that he will push for the draft law’s final paDssage this fall. The current chairman of the Defense and Security Committee–Mher Shahgeldian–said he supports the idea of an amnesty for cash "in principle."

More importantly–the Armenian Defense Ministry and the government as a whole back the bill.

"Our opinion is positive," senior Defense Ministry lawyer Sedrak Sedrakian said on Wednesday. "We hope that the law will allow a large number of young men to return to their homeland."

Criminal cases have been pending against an estimated 5,000 Armenian citizens for their failure to perform their military duty. Many of them are believed to have fled Armenia in the early 1990s–during the war with Azerbaijan. Only a small percentage is thought to have refused military service on religious grounds. Under Armenian law–every male citizen who is of 18 years of age is obliged to serve in the armed forces for two years. Undergraduate students of state-run Armenian universities may join the army after completing their studies.

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