Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your interest in this discussion and for being present here. I know that the issue is simultaneously discussed in several dimensions and I am very glad to see such a representative group here.
Today, we will talk about the "Nation- Army "concept and about combining and consolidating our efforts for that purpose, and I would like to begin my speech from a bit wider, perhaps conceptual discussion on what the "Nation-Army " is, what the army means to us, to our people, to our country, taking into account our uniqueness.
Our people comes from the depths of centuries and for centuries,with a pain of loss of statehood in our hearts, we had been dreaming of having our national state, about finding a new cradle for our identity, ideas, faith, language, culture and traditions. We sought independence in the distant lights of our noble families, we dreamed of independence and sang in the clutches of the Ottoman Empire, even during the most brutal days of the Armenian Genocide, we dreamed of independence and spoke about itduring the dire years of Stalin’s tyranny, and when the independenceknocked on our door, we took it as granted, something that we are entitled of because generations of our ancestors have fought for it, and now we have come to enjoy the independence and statehood. But it does not work like that. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, independence is always a test for maturity, self-sacrifice, consistent work; and for a nation deprived of statehood for centuries but with a millennia-old history, it also is a test to adapt its national identity to state institutions: now, are able to do so?
It’s hard to say what our Armenia would have looked like had our independence come without the new heroic fight. It’s hard to say what Armenia would have looked like if not for theforced maturity and the courage to make decisions on our own. It’s hard to say what kind of a state we would have been had not the enemy kept us alert by forcing usassume responsibility for every word we say, everything we do, every step we take. Quite possibly, we would have been a little safer, a little more prosperous, a little more sure about our future, morerelaxed and with less problems, but perhaps more dreamy, maybe also infantile. But it was our fate to become more self-reliant, to mature and become serious as quickly as possible, like it is the case with a child growing up in hardship.
As the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche says, whatdoesn’t kill you makes you stronger. From the very first day of its independence, the Republic of Armenia fought a life-and-death fight for its existence. Whoever still thinks that Armenia was save or is save today, or there is a chance for Armenia to be safe without ensuring the security of Artsakh, whoever thinks Armenia may be safe without Artsakh being safe, or thinks there is a state border of the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh line of contact, simply has no understandingof our geography or geopolitics.
What is the Republic of Armenia to us?
To many of our Diasporan sisters and brothers sitting here, it's not even the distant birthplace of their grandparents. To most of you, the lost Ergir, where we have left behind the homes and monasteries of our ancestors, native landscapes and local traditions, our villages and graves is where the historic Homeland is.
So, what is then Armenia to us, the Armenians of the world?
I think it is, first of all, the anchor forpreserving our identity and the blend of our national spirit. It's the lighthouse of the Armenian type in a stormy world. I think that it is also proved by the fact that every Diaspora Armenian, especially the young ones, who don’t even speak Armenian at all, an Armenian who is not going to an Armenian school, a youth born to a mixed-marriage couple, leaves Armenia with a sadness of a pandukht who has found a new homeland and a loving home.
How should one treat Armenia? Treat it like we treat a parent who guides us through our childhood, who cares for us until we reach maturity, or treat it like we treat a child towards whom we all have an obligation of making it durable, educate it and directit toward life.
Apparently, the millennia-long history of our nation makes us true Armenians. But the young age of our modern state, the unfavourable realities, the economic and social difficulties, the turmoil of public life dictate us to treat the Republic of Armenia as we treat a child, and all of us in Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora have a lot to do to make it stand firmly on its feet.
And, at the heart of those tasks --I repeat, unfortunately or fortunately – is the imperative to be ready to fight for the physical security. The imperative to be focused on the results, to have the necessary resources, knowledge and skills, to always keep our powder dry, but also to strengthen our national spirit and identity. If we fail to overcome the mentality that someone else is supposed to protect us, which is the result of our centuries-long existence as a part of a great empire, if we fail to overcome the illusion that a balance of great powers in our region would ensure our trouble-freeexistence, if we fail to consider it as an indisputable fact that we need to fight for the homeland and be prepared for any deprivation, then we are certain to lose some day.
We may win in the battlefield but lose in the economy; we may win in terms of the economy but lose our core principles and leading ideas. We may have victories and losses but if those are not for all, each of them will be a Pyrrhic Victory, with a result that is less than the efforts put on it. So, we have only one imperative: first and foremost, to care for our child's physical security, the reinforcement of defence, the strengthening of the ideological and principal axis of our struggle.
The Armenian army is the key to such security. The greatest and the most precious fruit of our independence and statehood. Our pride and our defender, the pillar cemented by the blood of the Armenian heroes.
In China, one in about 600 citizens serves in the armed forces. In the United States, this number is one in about 450, in the Russian Federation - one in 150. In case of Armenia, every 40th citizen is in the military. We are among the world’s top countries in terms of the percentage of the citizens enlisted in the military reserve, and probably top the list when it comes to the number of the reservists who have passed through a complicated course of combat duty.
This reality alone is enough to make us a nation-army, at least in terms of numbers.
Every family, every citizen is connected with military service issues some way or another. But in the 21st century, this is not enough because this century is about quality, ideas and efficiency. These facts shape the level of the military’s combat efficiency, and the Nation-Army concept is all about it. This ideology is about the deep respect and trust for our army of Armenians around the world, about the serious attitude towards the service in the military, about the necessityto fortify one’s body and soul during that service, about finding his/her proper place in the country’s defence system, about the growth of the military science and production capabilities, about forming a proper attitude towards the defender of the homeland, about standing by the family of akilled or disabled soldier as a nation, about fostering and strengthening the borderline, or more precisely, the border guard communities.
The Armenian Diaspora has an exceptional role in this national unity. Today, I don’t want to name the individual Diaspora organizations and individuals who have played a great role in the process of building our army. Their number is quite big. And if I tryto name them one by one, I am quite certain to leave some of them out, something that would be unacceptable. Our respects and appreciation to all who have realized the role and significance of our army and for years worked hard to set up and strengthen our army modestly and without any expectation.
The Nation-Army concept became the basis for a serious review of the defence policy. Today, I will briefly describe the directions in which these reforms are implemented in our armed forces and the programs reflecting the essence of those new political approaches.
Here are the five key directions of the Nation-Army policy:
1. Appreciation of military profession;
2. Improvement of the combat readiness and training levels, including armaments and equipment of the front lines;
3. Development of the military industry;
4. Strengthening of militarypolitical diplomacy;
5. Strengthening of justice and public trust.
Now, I’d like to suggest more details on these five directions and the specific programs that have been implemented this year and are under way in our armed forces.
Appreciation of military profession. I think you realize quite well that among many professions in today’s Armenia only few are as needed as skilled officers and sub-officers, skilled servicemen. Today, the armed forces are highly competitive in Armenia’s labour market. We offer high quality free education, stable employment andapparent opportunities for professional advancement.Of course, it is certainly a very dangerous and very responsible profession but in it also is the profession that todayoffers the most predictable professional growth path. However, we see certain questions in the society regarding the profession of military officer, we see the unconditional love of the society towards the soldiers, the parental love towards the soldiers, and we do not see a proportionate attitude, respect towards the commanders and officers. Therefore, we need to improve the quality of our military education, to continuously encourage the best and knowledgeable individuals to become officers and give them the opportunity to become a good specialist, to advance and bring their service to their homeland.
I think we have taken a number of crucial steps to this end, and we are going to take more actions in the near future. Just a few days ago, the new building of the Monte Melkonian military school opened in Dilijan. It is the high school of our Armed Forces, where boys are able to get education in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades.
This school has a history. For decades, it operated in Yerevan,training quite good specialists, but the facilities were simply inadequate and were not in line with the educational environment of today’s Armenia where we open new, well-equipped and well-resourced educational establishments every day.
I am very happy that the Armenian government and the country’s president welcomed the idea that the educational center built in Dilijan, which was originally being built as an educational center for the State Revenue Committee, be transferred to the military. And I wish tosay that today we have a military college in Dilijan that operates in the best possible conditions. In a few days, when we are going to celebrate our national hero Monte Melkonyan's 60th birthday, on November 25th,I think we will have the opportunity to organize a large event in the college; the doors of the college will be open. For those of you who will still be in Armenia and have a wish to visit the college this weekend, we will definitely organize an open-door event so you too could see the conditions in which the students of our military college currently study. The result was immediate; we saw it in the very first year: for the first time ever we had a high competition, three candidates for one place. I am sure we will have an even more impressive number of applicantsnext year because this school is truly the best in Armenia in terms of its staff of teachers, physical conditions and living conditions, just as it should be.
Our next objective is make the educational standards of our military universities in line with those of this college; we have two military universities: the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University and the Marshall Khanperiants Air Force University, and then we have the National Defence Research Institute, which carries out research tasks and has quite good facilities, good enough for performing its tasks, but we have two military education institutions where we prepare cadets and we need to have excellent facilities there.
We see it crucial for our cadets to integrate with students from other educational institutions because, look, we say that we are a nation-army, we say that the army is everywhere and is in every family, but in reality, it turns out that a young man who has chosen to become a military officer immediately cuts the bonds with the rest of the society. And while students of other institutions socialize with each other and have the opportunity to study together, the students of the military educational institutions are somehowdetached.
There is one more project that I put up for a broad discussion, and just in a few days we will adopt relevant legislative amendments at the National Assembly for its implementation.I am talking about the "I Have the Honour" program, under which, those graduating from civilian institutions with a bachelor’s degree in various professions will also get necessary military skills and knowledge and will be engaged in the tactical ring –that of junior officers-- with a short, three-year service. So, they will serve for three years not as privates – because the constitution requires every citizen to contribute to the country’s defence –but as commanding officers. I am confident that it will also start a very active process of integration and dialogue.
We also attach great importance to issues of patriotic education at schools, and in April, at this very building -- the Sports and Concert Complex -- we held a big conference dedicated to military and patriotic education at schools. We now review the quality of the preliminary military training textbooks and work on organizing pan-Armenian military and sports games for schools. We expect that as soon as in October we will hold such games at schools, and later we’ll hold them at the regional level, and then, in the spring, we’ll hold games at the national level to allow young people to show their knowledge and skills.
We also believe that if conscription assumes compulsory military service in the armed forces, then the privates who serve a two-year term in our armed forces should have access to additional education during their service. So, we have started a pilot project in Dilijan and Stepanakert: one group of soldiers from each unit dislocated in those towns are now taking courses in Informational Technologies, and this is done in cooperation with the Tumo Center, as there are Tumo Centers in those towns: the results and are impressive. We have reached an agreement with the Tumo Center and Sam Simonyan to open Tumo-army Centersin major military units with more than 1,000 conscripts so that every serviceman would acquire computer skills.Our expectation is that within a few years, any young person discharged from the military should at least become computer literate, and those more gifted will acquire some basic programming skills, which they can use to earn living after they are discharged. This is an open offer and is not limited to the TumoCenter only. We are very interested in similar projects, such as craftsmanship, to be implemented in the military. This is an excellent way to create favorable environment and new educational opportunities in military units.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Yaghubyan, Perch Setrakian, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, since we managed to implement a very important project in a very short period of time, and the Armenian General Benevolent Union sent a thousand e-books to Armenia in a record two weeks, and this year,the cadets of all our military institutions, as well as the Monte Melkonian college students and all the officers who were to receive theirfirst military ranks,got a personal electronic library. We downloaded about five hundred books, laws, professional literature, fiction in each such book, and every officer and future officer now has a possibility to read and engage in self-study. I think this is very important; thank you for your quick response.
Within this first component, we currently pay great attention to issues where the military can open the door for additional services or opportunities for the public. Border communities represent the first important direction in this regard. We have set up an interagency commission, headed by me, and together with my colleagues, we try to expose issues existing in every community, find solutionsand take practical steps to that end. Here and in our pavilion you can find a book, which is the result of the two months of the commission’s performance; every community is presentedin the book with its profile: its problems, which of them have been solved, which ones should be prioritized, such as the drinking water, or building a security wall, or building an additional educational facility, addressing economy issues, and more.
We are also trying to direct the suppliers of the armed forces to do business in border communities because there are considerable economic privileges there and we think it can be mutually more beneficial.
Here’s another example of army being useful to the public: the use of the capabilities of military hospitals for civilian population. As a country engaged in combats, we have a fairly wide range of hospitals throughout the country and in the regions. Many of these hospitals are better equipped, have more human resources than local, regional hospitals. Now we have set up a working group with the Ministry of Health to have the military hospitals merge with the civilian ones at least in Sisian, Vardenis and Berd to better serve the local population.
We also have a major problem - to have the Central Military Hospitalmeet the modern requirements. We have the best specialists there: in fact, the military hospital has the best reanimation department in Armenia, we have the best surgical resources but the building is in a bad shape. We have begun to work with our partners, donor organizations, to build a new, modern military hospital. We carry out a project to equip all our medical facilities with modern equipment.
We pay attention to families of deceased servicemen and the disabled. You know that the very first initiatives I put forward after becoming the minister of defencewas the creation of a special fund, dubbed by people as "fund of thousand drams." I don’t feel bad about it because what really matters is that the project is working, and today, it is the most transparent fund in Armenia. On the website of the fund -- www.1000plus.am -- anyone can see both mandatory and voluntary donations,as well as all those families who receive aid from that fund. This fund really offers a compensation program -- that meets the international standards -- for the families of those killed and the disabled servicemen. In case of a killed officer, his family receives a total compensation equal to about USD 170,000. This would never remedy the pain from the loss but it is the only and fair way to deal with a number of economic problems. I’d like to use this opportunityto thank all those who make voluntary donations to that fund. You know that Armenian citizens make compulsory payments from their monthly salaries but I’d like to mention Mr. Yezeklyan, sitting in this hall, who donated $ 15,000 to the fund without talking about it, and also Mr. Anmahini from Cyprus, an old man, who, during my visit, donated $ 10,000 from his savings. This is a very important moral and spiritual support to the foundation and our projects.
The second important direction is the issues of armament, combat readiness and equipping the front line. You know that we have a very long front line, and the biggest change since the last April events is that the front line has changed significantly in terms of introduction of engineering equipment and especially monitoring and video surveillance equipment. That means our guys' service is a little safer now.
We need an intensive armaments program that we currently carry out. You know that Azerbaijan has chosen the course of arms race; however, it has never been our method to get parity in numbers, and that's not just a matter of resources but more a matter of good judgement. Today, we are equipped with rather adequate means to react and retaliate and to organize our defence; however, military technologies and military science develop so fast that everything you employ gets a little older just a few months later because more modern ones, “antidotes,” are developed, and you also need to come up with an “antidote;” this is why we need consulting and support. I must say that our compatriots from around the world play a great role in these programs. I must say that with their donations we really can do a lot of work in this direction. We also attach great importance to ensuring logistics because we consider that our service personnel should have the most comfortable conditions and be provided with everything they need.
There are several projects in progress. Now we are working very intensively on the idea of making the Armenian army shoes an internationally renowned brand. We have had good shoemakingtraditions, a great reputation. There is no reason why the armed forces, which is a large procurer of shoes, cannot become the developer and exporter of a unique brand. I must say that there are many Armenians in Russia who are involved in the production of shoes, and we have already received some confirmations from them, including the supply of new lines. And I think that before the end of winter we will have the first stage of Armenian army shoes production. We have improved the shoes that are now in use but that's not enough. We really want to have the best and become known for that.
The third topic -- the military industry -- is crucial. We are forced to have a large army, large armed forces. It means that we either have to complain constantly and say that it is a huge burden for us and continue spending public money on it, or we should understand that it also is an opportunity, and if that is an opportunity, then first of all in terms of advancing military science and military industry.
I should t say that the State Committee for Military Industry, which is headed by a very talented and devoted person, David Pakhchanyan, has really made great progress, there is really remarkable progress in that direction, and I think that we are very close to the point when we will also have the first serious exports. Indeed, our first goal is to supply our armed forces. That’s what we are working on. But in this field, if you keep producing only for you, will never be competitive. The production of just one sample can never provide the economic conditions to make production more profitable than importing. We are trying to maintain efficiency everywhere. So, it is crucial to export our developments and our products. Armenia had a great scientific potential in Soviet times after all. Traditionally, Armenia was a supplier of key IT components in the Soviet Union military-industrial complex. I think we can quickly restore it if we work more consistently in that direction.
The fourth direction is the activation of military diplomacy. Let me tell you that during my tenure, I have had a number of visits that are yielding results and provide for new such opportunities. My first visit was to the Russian Federation. I’dlike to say that regardless of all the rumours and discussions that you see in the media, Russia remains a very reliable and very strong ally to us. The price offers, the open opportunities that we have at the Russian military-industrial complex, are only possible when the military alliance relations stand on the highest level.
We are able tosign contracts directly with Russiancompanies and purchase weapons and ammunition at domestic prices.If we add to this the very favourable loan terms and also free aid, you will understand the crucial role Russia has in maintaining our armed forces and maintaining combat readiness. But this does not mean we have no other relations. My second visit -- from a chronological point of view-- was to the traditional friendly Greece, which played and still playsan exceptional role building our army since the first days. I've been to our neighbour countries, Georgia and Iran: the two countries, through which we connect with the outside world and where there are many interesting joint projects. I have been to China recently, where, during my official visit, I discussed issues related to the expansion of our military-technical ties and possible military and technical cooperation. I also paid a visit to Brussels. You know that we have a partnership with NATO, especially within the framework of peacekeeping operations.Our peacekeepers are involved in two missions that are carried out by NATO. These are UN Security Councilauthorized missions: one in Afghanistan and the other one in Kosovo. We carry out another mission with the UN Peacekeeping Force, under the Italian command, in south Lebanon where our peacekeepers are engaged in very important functions.
The last direction I would like to speak about is the strengthening of fairness and public confidence in and towards the military. Since the military is so crucial for our state and statehood because it carries out our life and death tasks, it is extremely important that our entire society had a full trust in it. And there are several components for that. The first is the fight against corruption in the military and the increase of the armed forces efficiency: significant steps have been taken in this regard but there is still much to be done. The second is the ethics. Today, I want to announce something that has not been publicized yet but I have been discussing it with my colleagues in the government and the Ethics Committee. We plan to propose legislative amendments in the near future, under which,government officials should reveal information about military service with regard to themselves and their family members. They will have to declare whether they have served in the military or not, whether they were subject for deferment or dismissal, and if they have served, they will have to point the unit they have served in. I think this is very important for raising trust and accountability in the society.
We are currently implementing a project called "Ditaket" (watchtower). Under this project, a professional sociologist, who is not employed by the Ministry of Defence but represents a private polling company, pays visits to discharged soldiers – everyone, not selectively -- to fill out a questionnaire consisting of about sixty questions on all aspects of the service, from accommodation to details of the military service. The poll is anonymous but the name of the military unit will be mentioned. We will have a complete picture on November 1, and we’ll know what kind of problems there exist in a particular military unit, what issues are there to solve, and also what the problems are. I think it will become a very effective tool for us. We have opened a hot line to which any servicemen, any member of the family can call to talk about his/her concerns or problems. My first deputy has a working group that periodically discusses each and every topic every week and tries to react and resolve the problems.