Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: Oct/Nov '10

In-depth reports on non-combat deaths in the military followed up with debate on reasons behind the worrying trend.
  • IWPR Armenia event held on 24 November 2010. (Photo: IWPR)
    IWPR Armenia event held on 24 November 2010. (Photo: IWPR)

The unprecedented rise in non-combat deaths in the Armenian army was the subject of a round-table discussion on November 24 2010, which generated a flurry of reports in the local media.

The event was a follow-up to the IWPR article Unease at Soldiers’ Deaths in Armenia, by Gayane Mkrthcyan, which gave prominence to the worrying trend.

More than 40 people – representatives from the public sector, government officials, experts, observers, journalists and activist citizens – took part in the IWPR event.

Officials admit there were more than 20 non-combat deaths in the Armenian army in 2010, but some NGOs say the figure is much higher.

According to data provided by Arthur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor-based regional branch of the Armenian Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, there were 44 deaths in the army in 2010, 37 of them non-combat related.

"Out of the 44, only 7 of them died as a result of a ceasefire violation," Sakunts told the round table, which was covered by the local media and led to 13 reports.

“The most terrible thing is that the cases of murders are not disclosed. They either try to cover it as suicides or clashes between the soldiers. In fact, the phenomenon has deeper roots.”

Sakunts said that there have always been murders in the Armenian army, but today the public is more interested in the subject and keen that something is done about it. 

“Discussions and events like this can help to shift public attention to the incidents in the army that will help to prevent future crimes. Keeping silent about these problems contributes to the concealment of crime and its further continuation," he said. 

The head of Helsinki Association in Yerevan, Mikayel Danielyan, told the gathering, “If the cancer is not removed, it will grow. Society is concerned, because it is obvious that one day this [criminalisation] can affect them.” 

The National Security Council Chief of Staff, Suren Davtyan, who was representing the authorities, said the non-combat deaths reflected society’s moral decline.

“What are the values that [young men are] being introduced to before joining the army? It is easy to blame the army and defense ministry. There is system decay in our country. It has become dangerous to live in Armenia. Even schools are dangerous now,” he said.

The discussion was several times interrupted by the parents of non-combat victims, who blamed the authorities for the deaths of their sons.

“It has been three years since our son passed away and no one in the military unit was even reprimanded. What’s the reason of my son’s death? I have raised my kid for 19 years. I am a mother and I want to know the reason,” said one woman. 

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