YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has rejected the idea of providing residents of villages situated near the restive border with Azerbaijan with weapons for defense purposes.
The measure was earlier proposed by the Public Council, a body comprising well-known public figures and advising the authorities on policy issues. The idea came in response to rising concerns in society over the security of borderlands especially in the wake of recent reports about infiltrations by Azerbaijani armed groups into Armenian territories.
Last week authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said a group of Azerbaijanis had been arrested in the region on suspicion of espionage and subversive activities. The Nagorno-Karabakh police force said the group members had killed one military serviceman and severely wounded a civilian. Another local teenager, it said, had been kidnapped and then brutally murdered by the Azerbaijani “saboteurs.”
In the wake of the incursions, authorities in Stepanakert did not exclude that residents of the Armenian district of Karvachar (Kelbajar), where the incidents are said to have occurred, would be provided with “means” to bolster security along the Line of Contact with Azerbaijani armed forces.
Still last week Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian assured the Armenian public that none of the Azerbaijanis who had infiltrated into the Karvachar district managed to cross the border into Armenia proper. He, however, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday that the country’s armed forces have been putting in place some “engineering facilities” along with other measures to prevent possible attempts by Azerbaijani forces to make raids into Armenian territory.
Speaking at the July 24 meeting of the Public Council, President Sarkisian stressed that he saw no point in arming residents of Armenian villages situated near the border with Azerbaijan.
“We invite all residents of border villages who can use weapons to serve in our armed forces where good conditions are created and where they can receive a net monthly salary of 150,000 drams (about $370) plus perks. They can serve only half of the month, spending the rest half working on their land,” he said in televised remarks.
“It concerns all of our communities situated near the border [with Azerbaijan]. People there who know how to use weapons and want to serve in the military are provided with such an opportunity,” the president added.
Meanwhile, many people living in communities not far from the border with Azerbaijan still believe that being armed is a necessity for them.
“If something happens, how can we protect ourselves if no one has arms?” one elderly woman said. “If they give us arms that would be good,” said another man in the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur.