YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s Constitutional Court gave the government the green light on Wednesday to send Armenian non-combat troops to Iraq–paving the way for a debate on the issue in parliament.
Some members of parliament hold serious misgivings about the wisdom of such a deployment–sharing concerns about the security of Iraq’s Armenian community.
But Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian brushed aside those concerns as he addressed the panel of nine judges. "Armenia could not have stayed isolated from regional developmen’s," he said. "Hence–the Armenian authorities’ decision to participate in the process of Iraq’s stabilization."
Sarkisian warned that Armenia’s failure to follow neighboring Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s example and join the US-led "coalition of the willing" in Iraq "could create certain obstacles to a further expansion of Armenia’s cooperation in the international arena." He did not elaborate.
The one-day court hearing centered on an agreement between Poland and 18 other countries that have troops in a Polish-led multinational division controlling south-central Iraq. Armenian President Kocharian promised to place about 50 Armenian military doctors–sappers and truck drivers under Polish command during a visit to Warsaw last September. The Constitutional Court found that the agreement does not run counter to the Armenian constitution.
Sarkisian said Yerevan will sign up to the document on the condition that Armenian military personnel take part only in "defensive and humanitarian activities" and avoid joint contact with a larger Azerbaijani contingent. "Performance of joint tasks with the contingent of Azerbaijani armed forces stationed in Iraq will not be acceptable," he said.
Speaking to reporters afterward–Sarkisian was confident that the National Assembly would endorse deployment plans endorsed by the US. "I think that the overwhelming majority of our parliamentarians care about Armenia’s future and will not make emotional decisions," he said.
Critics have been warning that an estimated 25,000 Iraqi citizens of Armenian descent could face retaliatory attacks from Iraqi insurgents once Armenia becomes part of the US-led occupation force. The insurgents have routinely kidnapped and killed citizens of countries cooperating with it.
Leaders of the Iraqi Armenia’s have themselves exhorted Kocharian not to send any servicemen. Underscoring their fears was Tuesday’s bombing of Armenian and Chaldean churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. News reports said gunmen burst in and set off explosions inside the buildings–damaging them but hurting no one.
In Yerevan–meanwhile–one of the Constitutional Court judges–Kim Balayan–wondered if the planned deployment could put the lives of Iraqi Armenia’s at greater risk. Sarkisian countered that they will be insecure regardless of Armenian military presence in Iraq.