YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian will fly to Istanbul on Thursday to attend an international conference on the future of the ongoing NATO-led mission in Afghanistan which Armenia is about to join.
Defense ministers of NATO member states are scheduled to start the two-day gathering on Thursday evening with a working dinner centered on reforms of the alliance. They will be joined on Friday by their counterparts from partner countries participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which has been fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan along with American troops.
The meeting will discuss the planned dispatch of around 40,000 extra troops to Afghanistan as part of the ISAF’s new counter-insurgency strategy. They include a 40-strong Armenian army unit that will serve under German command and be mainly tasked with protecting a military airport in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.
The Armenian parliament approved the deployment in early December after months of negotiations between Armenian and NATO officials. The Armenian contingent left for Germany last month to undergo additional training at a German military base located in the southwestern Baden-Wurttemberg region. It is due to flown to Kunduz later this month.
Armenia’s ambassador to Germany, Armen Martirosian, visited the Afghanistan-bound troops on January 28. “The commanders of the [German] military base highly assessed the degree of the servicemen’s preparedness,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Ohanian will hold bilateral meetings with some of his Western counterparts on the sidelines of the Istanbul forum. A ministry statement said he will also visit the Istanbul Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church which leads Turkey’s small Armenian community.
Ohanian will apparently become the first serving Armenian defense minister to set foot in Turkey.