YEREVAN—On a rainy afternoon outside the Government House on Republic Square, retired army officers, most of whom had completed 25-year service contracts, protested a recent decision by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to allocate AMD 5,705 billion ($11.6 million) for the improvement of living conditions for officers.
Under the controversial new ruling, the government is expected to earmark housing grant packages of up to six million AMD ($12,000) for 1140 retiring officers. These service-members will be required to find housing using their means rather than receive previously-promised State-allocated apartments. The government pledged to provide preferential mortgage rates for beneficiaries in an attempt to sweeten the deal. Karen Hakobyan, the spokesmen for the officers mocked that proposal. “I’ll give you the six million dram, and you try to find us three-bedroom apartments for that price in Yerevan,” he told the cameras.
Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan responded to claims that the grant would not cover the cost of buying a home in Yerevan for 326 beneficiaries registered in the capital. He argued that officers would be encouraged to buy houses in other communities where living expenses will be lower while reducing pressure on Yerevan’s housing stock. The protesting officers rejected an earlier proposal by the State to provide assistance for the total amount for housing outside of Yerevan and half the real-estate value of housing in the capital.
Some officers took offense with the notion that the government should decide where they can retire. “This is an attempt to divide residents of Yerevan and the rest of the country,” retorted one of the protesters. The officers say they are entitled to government-provided housing in the community in which they and their families are registered upon completing their service. Many have been waiting for over a decade.
Housing assistance for retiring officers is among the perks promised upon entry into the Military Academy. However, the previous administration apparently neglected to earmark the necessary funds over its decades-long stint in power.
With a generation of army-officers nearing retirement age, the incoming government finds itself financially ill-equipped to deliver on an old promise to the men and women who put their lives on the line for their country. Faced with a need to cut government expenditure, authorities have offered mortgages at preferential rates to cover the remainder of the housing costs for soldiers. However, the officers argue that these rates are higher than some of those offered by private banks.
This latest controversy sparked concern that the government’s inability to provide for its service-members might discourage future applicants from choosing a career at the Military Academy. Armenia has been in a state of no-war-no-peace with neighboring Azerbaijan since a 1994 ceasefire ended the Nagorno-Karabakh War in Yerevan’s favor. Both countries rely on conscription to fill ranks and man front-line trenches. In recent years, Armenia has made moves toward strengthening the professional component of the army.
The MoD expects to boost morale for contract soldiers with higher hazard pay, unique educational opportunities, and post-demobilization assistance. The officers announced that in the event of a negotiations breakdown with the authorities, they will file a class-action lawsuit against the State to secure what they say is their right to housing.