Again, students and professors strike to protect the military deferment for male students. First attempt to abolish military deferment was in 1997. However, the law faced criticism from the members of the Parliament. The second attempt was in 2004. The draft law was proposing to cancel the military deferment for students in Graduate and Postgraduate degrees. Back then students and professors of Yerevan State University formed the For the Science Development initiative and successfully fought against the law and kept the deferment.
In September 2017, the Ministry of Defense proposed a draft law, according to which, students will not have the option of military deferment anymore, and by the age of 18 male students will have to serve in the army. According to the new law, a deferment would be granted based only on health conditions, family conditions, in case of being elected as a member of Parliament or based on a special order by the government. Students may receive deferment after signing a contract with the Defense Ministry, after which students are obliged to attend military preparation courses every Saturday from the second year of their studies and after graduation serves as an officer for three years. This deferment will be given only to students who are younger than 26.
For five days straight, hundreds of students gathered for a strike in protest against the adoption of the law. The initiative, For the Science Development, organizing the strike claims that this is a short-term and ineffective solution and will not solve the corruption in education and military sectors.
The initiative proposes to stipulate the eligibility criteria for granting the military deferment to talented students. Provide a limited number of military deferment spots to students pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, taking into consideration the demands of the state, which still needs to be determined. It is proposed to postpone the discussion of the Law on the Status of Military Servicemen and Conscripts, and to make the two bills concordant. Taking into account the fact that students currently pursuing Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees have legitimate expectations of military deferment for their further studies, the initiative also proposes that the spots that have been available over the previous years continue to be so. Finally, the initiative proposes that postgraduate students not be subject to conscription after finishing their doctoral dissertations (regardless of the fact that they have not reached the age of 27), as they are producers of scientific value.“
On November 9, the protesters reached the Government Building, where they demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister of Armenia, Karen Karapetyan. One of the members of the initiative Davit Petrosyan claimed that they had come there to express their concerns regarding the limitation of the right for deferment. Ultimately, five leaders of the strike met with the Prime Minister. Ministers of Education and Defense were also present during the meeting. Minister of Defense, Vigen Sargsyan took the lead in defending the new law. The students and the officials did not reach a consensus.
One of the organizers of the strike, Vahan Kostanyan claims: “It is very gladsome that during the protest, many students joined us from the American University of Armenia, European and Slavonic universities. I’ve heard that there are some repressions in the universities and students are threatened with low grades and with the prohibition of free education. Though the participation of students is very important because whenever we are together, it would be difficult to break us.”
On November 10, the Parliamentary Standing Committee held an emergency meeting in the late evening and approved the draft law.
Students will continue the strike beginning at 9:30.
AUA community has joined the protests
Shushan Sahakyan is a Computer Science student at AUA and considers this strike crucial and says that it is critical to join regardless of which university a student goes to. So far, about 60 AUA students have joined the protest.
AUA administration guided by The First Amendment of the US Constitution, namely the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom of the right of people to peaceably assemble, expressed its understanding towards the participation of members of the AUA community to attend the strike.However, an opposite position was taken by the AUA Undergraduate Student Council. On November 9, USC stated its position, according to which they are “against any such actions as our university is independent of any political movements.” The solution proposed by USC was the organization of a round table with participation of representatives from the Ministry and the Student Councils of other Universities.Ironically, the student councils of Yerevan State and other State Universities adopted the same position regarding this issue. There is a general failure of student councils representing their own students.
AUA students participating in the protests alerted that they were approached by the leaders of USC and asked not to participate in the strike. Talin Saghdasaryan who studies in AUA, gave a definite reply to the members of the council, saying: “ We are concerned citizens of Armenia and as students have the rights to participate in the strike.”
Photos by Ani Yavrenc