For the past few days, university students in Yerevan have been staging demonstrations protesting a new draft law, approved by a parliamentary committee, that would eliminate deferment from Armenia’s mandatory military service for students attending university, essentially calling for all males to enlist in the military at the age of 18.
The student protesters argue that without the deferments currently in place, it would become harder to go to college and “become scientists or scholars.”
On Thursday, several organizers of the student protests met with Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who was accompanied by Armenia’s defense and education ministers, Vigen Sargsyan and Levon Mkrtrchyan, respectively, who had already met with student leaders a day before.
Much to the dismay of the students, Karapetyan was steadfast in defending the measure, which the government argues impacts only a small percentage—15 percent—of students who receive scholarships to study at state universities. Students who pay for higher education already are drafted at 18.
The prime minister also told the students to offer amendments that may be considered when the measure is debated by the parliament in full.
“The opposite side did not share our view. Therefore, we will continue our struggle,” one of the protest leaders told more than a 100 fellow students rallying outside the prime minister’s office in Yerevan, reported RFE/RL’s Armenian service. Another leader urged the students to continue the boycott that began on Tuesday.
Mkrtchyan, the education minister, gave the students a similar explanation when he met with them on Wednesday.
“When it comes to serving the homeland, no citizen of the Republic of Armenia will have privileges,” Mkrtchyan told several organizers, according to RFE/RL. He argued that more than 85 percent of male students attending state-run universities are already drafted for military service at 18.
“There is quite strong political support behind [the bill]… I don’t think that this bill is subject to withdrawal,” added Mkrtchyan.
Should there be a larger discussion about the elephant in the room: What has given impetus to this bill?
Will the children of government officials also enlist at 18, or will they use their parents’ positions to avoid military service? And, is emigration of young people from Armenia impacting service in Armenia’s armed forces?
A version of this article originally appeared in our sister publication, Asbarez News, on Nov. 9. Ara Khachatourian is its English editor.