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Former Armenian Envoy To NATO Promoted

Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian inspects Armenian troops in Afghanistan
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian inspects Armenian troops in Afghanistan
YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has named a former representative to NATO as first deputy defense minister, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Colonel Davit Tonoyan, 42, served as the military's first permanent representative to NATO headquarters in Brussels for several years before becoming the head of the Defense Ministry's Department of Defense Policy in 2007. He is widely regarded as Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian's right-hand man.

Ohanian has favored closer cooperation between Armenia and NATO since becoming defense minister more than two years ago. He is also known as a strong backer of defense reforms that would bring the Armenian army into greater conformity with NATO standards and practices.

On October 4, Sarkisian also dismissed Major General Vladimir Gasparian as chief of the military police and named him a deputy minister. Although the appointment technically constitutes a promotion, the transfer may have resulted from several deadly incidents that have rocked the armed forces since late July.

Sarkisian's office did not cite any reasons for Gasparian's appointment.

Meanwhile, on October 3, another Armenian soldier died in suspicious circumstances. A Defense Ministry statement said the 18-year-old conscript, Samvel Khachatrian, was founded hanged in the basement of his military unit.

An official at the ministry's investigative service told RFE/RL that Khachatrian served in Nagorno-Karabakh and that it has launched a criminal investigation into his death.

Gegham Harutiunian, an adviser to Ohanian, said the military is also conducting a separate inquiry led by Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff General Valeri Grigorian.

"I am confident that as a result of measures taken by the Defense Ministry and the army command, this chain [of deadly incidents] will be broken," Harutiunian told RFE/RL.

According to Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner monitoring crimes in the army, as many as 13 Armenian soldiers have died in noncombat incidents in the last three months. "That's one soldier per week," he said. "That's a disgrace."

Sakunts told RFE/RL he stands by his view that the deadly incidents are the result of incompetence and corruption among various-level military commanders. "I can't understand why they appointed [Gasparian] as deputy minister of defense," he said. "That cannot have a substantial impact on the prevention of such cases."

"I wouldn't say such cases have become more frequent," said Harutiunian. "There is just more publicity surrounding problems related to the army." He said the number of noncombat deaths has fallen drastically in the first half of this year.