Saturday, September 18, 2010


By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow /armenian_army_hazing_youtube_video
15.09.10 | 12:17

Human rights

A recent footage showing ostensibly an army officer humiliating two young soldiers dressed in uniforms of the Republic of Armenia armed forces has added a new dimension to the continuing debate in Armenia about the state of human rights in the military after several cases of shootings and suicides in the ranks in recent months.

The video originally posted on YouTube quickly spread throughout other video sharing websites and online social networks.

It shows a scene in which a man stripped to the waist and wearing camouflage only from his waist down repeatedly hits two young soldiers on the head and drags their ears. The man, alleged to be an officer of the Armenian army, is shown from the back and his face cannot be seen.

The low quality of the video does not allow a viewer to clearly see faces or hear what is being said in Armenian. It is clear, though, that the soldiers wear Armenian army uniforms.

Those suspecting a fake video made by Azeri propaganda say getting an Armenian army uniform is not difficult.

Reacting to the video, Armenia's Ministry of Defense said it "strongly condemns the preparation and deliberate dissemination of similar materials which is aimed at discrediting and damaging the prestige of the Republic of Armenia armed forces."

According to the Ministry's statement, appropriate measures are being taken "to verify the authenticity of the video, identify those shown on it, finding the authors, punishing those using violence."

Armenia's main opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) describes what is shown on the video as "high treason."

"Any man of reason, especially young people aged 18-19 who are subjected to such inhuman humiliation can resort to suicide and murder and prefer running to the enemy," said the ANC.

The opposition expresses concern that such a soldier subjected to humiliation "will not fight against the enemy if need be".

"This is how the army is being destroyed and Karabakh is being given up," the opposition bloc stressed.

Against the backdrop of tensions along the line of contact with Azerbaijani armed forces when ceasefire violations happen on a daily basis in Karabakh, many think that public sentiments against the army are "dangerous" in view of the approaching autumn conscription period.

"These are simply special operations incited from outside, which can indeed have a serious impact, as parents are terrified, the atmosphere of distrust is getting deeper, and it only plays into Azerbaijan's hands. We have problems with demography and similar things only further aggravate this problem," former Deputy Defense Minister Vahan Shirkhanyan tells ArmeniaNow.

As many as nine servicemen died in Armenian armed forces in non-combat conditions in the past two months.

The deadliest incident in the 18 years of the Armenian army's history took place on July 28, when a conscript went on a shooting spree, killing five of his fellow servicemen, including one lieutenant, one sergeant and three soldiers, and after that killing himself.

Only a day before that incident, in another military unit 30-year-old lieutenant Artak Nazaryan committed suicide, according to an official version of the events. But Nazaryan's relatives are convinced that he was killed as a forensic examination found traces of violence on his body.

And on August 17, 26-year-old junior sergeant Harutyun Vardanyan, serving in the army on a contractual basis, shot dead the same unit's contract-based serviceman, 44-year-old junior sergeant Arsen Chobanyan.

After these incidents human rights activists in Armenia called for drastic reforms in the army.

The main reasons for the situation in the army, according to the Helsinki Committee Chairman, human rights activist Avetik Ishkhanyan is corruption, cruel attitude of officers and impunity.

"Those responsible for victims in the army in peaceful conditions mainly go unpunished, often weaker circles become scapegoats, the innocent are convicted, cases are covered up, and this begets new crimes," says Ishkhanyan.

Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan promises to implement reforms, giving assurances that many problems will be solved by the reform program for 2008-2015.

While 100-170 soldiers died annually in peace conditions in 1998-2005, then in 2006-2009 this number is 40-70.

Member of the Public Council affiliated with the Ministry of Defense, Chairman of the "Soldier's Mother" NGO Greta Mirzoyan believes the situation in the army has improved, but it is only in comparison to more "terrible" years.

"It's true that the number of deaths is decreasing, but every soldier's life is valuable for us and the latest events are so terrible that very serious steps should be taken. It is no longer possible to wait and keep silent," Mirzoyan told ArmeniaNow.

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