YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The combat-readiness of the Armenian armed forces has improved markedly over the past seven years–Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian claimed on Thursday. Sarkisian told reporters that the army–which fought a successful war against Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh–is now "better armed–better funded and better organized" than in 1993-95–during his previous spell as minister of defense. "The difference is really big," according to him.
Sarkisian also insisted that discipline in the armed forces is strong despite a recent incident in which two fugitive servicemen’shot dead eight people before being caught by the police. Also–parents of dozens of soldiers killed in out-of-combat incidents held a series of demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Yerevan last month–protesting an alleged official cover-up of the crimes. "We do have a normal army," the minister said.
A former wartime commander of Karabakh Armenian forces who has held key posts in the government of Armenia proper since 1993–Sarkisian resigned as minister of national security in the wake of last October’s parliament shootings under pressure from political allies of the slain leaders of the governing Unity bloc. He was appointed as head of President Robert Kocharian’s staff shortly afterwards–retaining much of his political influence.
Sarkisian’s appointment as defense minister in May marked Kocharian’s final victory in the power struggle with the Unity bloc.