Demonstrators say that they are not against military service, but simply against its interference with education
Students in Yerevan came out today in protest and refused to enter lecture halls. The demonstrators organized the protest in connection with a bill that may possibly limit their right to postpone military service based on their student status.
The Parliament of Armenia has already approved a bill in its first reading on ‘Military Service and the Status of Servicemen’, which has caused discontent among students. The second reading of the bill will take place next week.
Students demand that the current law be retained with no changes, and that students on scholarships be allowed to complete their studies before being called into the army. According to the new proposed bill, the right to postpone military service will only be given to students who sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense promising that they will complete military service after completing university.
Supporters of the bill claim that some students use university studies in order to evade army service. Students that are participating in the protest claim that this bill will not become a hindrance to those that are intent on avoiding army service.
“They say that this bill will establish justice, but we don’t see a clear basis for this assertion. Loopholes in the system of health will remain and statistics show that many young people avoid the army namely through the health system. This project will only bring harm to education and science. An education will be even less attractive,” says activist Van Kostanyan.
“As a representative of the education system, I admit that yes, sometimes education is used as a means to avoid army service. In our educational system there is corruption and there are risks of corruption. However, we believe that those that want to dedicate themselves to the sciences and academia should not be deprived of this possibility,” says another participant of the protest.
The protestors went around to almost all the institutes of higher education in Yerevan, calling on students to join them, but the doors of some educational institutions were locked: students were not allowed out of the buildings to join the demonstrations. Those that wanted to join opened windows and shouted ‘Professors, join in!’ and ‘The right to delay service will stay!’.
Very few professors joined in. “This bill will not harm education. The Armenian youth are conducting a demonstration in order to not serve in the army. This is shameful, this doesn’t do justice to Armenian youth. This is a violation of justice, where some must serve in the army and others don’t have to,” said Marat Grigoryan, the Dean of the Faculty of Geography and Geology at Yerevan State University.
However, students say that their protest is aimed not against army service in general – their demand is to make sure army service doesn’t interfere with the education process.
“It should be noted that students are simply speaking out against existing problems, and many teachers and mature people, instead of supporting or at least taking a neutral position, are edging them on. We have already become witnesses to this pressure. Because the system is not stable, there might even be threats,” said one of the participants of the demonstration and the ‘In the Name of the Development of Science’ initiative.
Students stated that the strike will go on. They demand meetings and discussions with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Education.