YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian has sought to downplay the lingering allegations of pervasive corruption and abuse in the Armenian army, condemning its “vilification” in the wake of a recent series of non-combat deaths and reported malpractices in the military.
“The army is a mirror of society and the shortcomings and problems that exist in society will, in varying degrees, inevitably exist in the army as well,” Sarkisian, who is also the armed forces’ commander-in-chief by Armenia’s constitution, said while touring Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province at the weekend.
On Saturday, the Armenian president also visited a recently launched sugar plant in Akhurian where he answered a number of questions, including the question about the current state of affairs in the Armenian army.
A series of non-combat shootings in July and August that left at least seven soldiers dead as well as the leaked evidence of hazing and other army abuse in recent months have stirred a public debate in Armenia, leading some critics to calling for the resignation of the country’s top defense officials.
The criticism came amid a number of arrests of senior army officers suspected of different crimes, with the Armenian Defense Ministry pledging full-scale investigations and transparency in all cases.
While taking heed of criticism, Armenia’s defense authorities have also sought to show that the recent rise in reported crime in the military largely reflects the greater extent of transparency afforded by the traditionally closed institution. They have also pledged to continue further reforms to improve the human rights protection standards in the ranks.
In his latest remarks Sarkisian effectively defended this position and warned against using smear tactics to damage the reputation of the army.
“I have a negative attitude toward these phenomena – not toward the fact that a lot is being written and talked about the army, but toward the phenomenon of vilifying and disparaging the army out of purely political, narrow-personal and party interests,” he said in an apparent response to a number of recent opposition media publications painting a grim picture of the situation in the army ranks and lashing out at the top military brass.
“Our army has never been without accidents. There were no years that would pass without a soldier or an officer dying or an accident happening, because our army is a huge structure, our army is an operating army, and, finally, any army is an inseparable part of society,” Sarkisian said.