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Armenian Lawmakers Adopt Controversial Military-Service Bill


On the sixth day of protest against Armenian legislation on the draft, five students started a hunger strike at Yerevan State University.

Armenia’s parliament has passed in its second and final reading a controversial bill that would restrict draft deferments.

Eighty-six lawmakers in the 105-seat National Assembly approved the proposed legislation on November 15, with six lawmakers voting against it.

The votes against the bill came from the opposition Yelk faction in the legislature, which is dominated by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutiun.

President Serzh Sarkisian is expected to signed the text into law.

The bill, which passed in its first reading late last month, has sparked protests among students, several opposition parties, and public figures in Armenia.

Under the proposed legislation, to get a draft deferment all male students who want to pursue a higher education must sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense and agree to serve three years in the military after completing their studies in a place and in conditions that the Defense Ministry will establish.

Otherwise, the students will be drafted once they turn 18.

The protesting students as well as several opposition parties and public figures in Armenia say the legislation will harm the development of science in the country by allowing interruptions in the education process and discouraging students from pursuing scientific careers.

Proponents of the legislation deny it will harm scientific development while saying it will ensure fairer treatment of young men who do not get draft deferments and exemptions.

Also on November 15, leaders of a student movement protesting against the bill declared a halt in their weeklong protests after meeting with lawmakers inside the National Assembly.

Leading student activist David Petrosian and deputy parliament speaker Eduard Sharmazanov said that a roundtable discussion will be held on November 22 to discuss the bill.

"This roundtable discussion will be attended by all stakeholders, including scientists, scholars, and lecturers named by these students," Sharmazanov said. "Both the issue of draft deferments and various other issues of concern to students will be discussed. All that will be public and transparent."

Petrosian said the students agreed to stop their protest actions to "get ready for the round table.”

The activist was among five members of the For Science Development group that started a hunger strike earlier this week against the legislation and barricaded themselves inside a lecture room at Yerevan State University.

Several hundred students have boycotted classes since November 7 and marched on government buildings to protest the bill.

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