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‘Am I Irrelevant Because I Stayed Alive?’ Participants of April Fighting Ask for Verification of Their Service

It has been reported in recent months that military authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have been failing to make the respective entries in the military cards of recently discharged Armenian soldiers on their participation in the four-day fighting last April at the Karabakh-Azerbaijan border. There have also been some instances when servicemen complained that officials were crossing out the entries that had already been made and thus depriving them of certain privileges they would otherwise be eligible for in the sphere of health and education. Several former servicemen of the NKR army, human rights defenders, and a spokesperson for Armenia’s defense ministry discussed the issue at a joint conference on Friday.

“Fortunately, no one died at our position; but if they did, wouldn’t you have called their parents and told them they had died in combat? How am I any different? If my friends and I were lucky enough [not to get killed], why shouldn’t we considered combatants? Had we not returned, you would have given our families a medal and said we had died defending our homeland… Well, am I irrelevant now just because I managed to come back alive?” Areg Janoyan, a soldier who fought in April at a combat position in Jabrayil, said addressing the ministry representative.

On the morning of April 2, he went on, after hearing the alarm go off, they went up to the fighting positions and stayed on the front line until April 6; however, military officials have made no mention of their participation in the fighting in their military cards. The former soldier has twice appealed to the defense ministry, where he received an answered that he had not taken part in combat operations but was on patrol duty.

Janik Simonyan, who was at Hadrut positions when the fighting broke off, said during the conference that the soldiers in his unit had been warned in advance that enemy was preparing to launch a major offensive; “Which meant that there would be a war.” After he was discharged in late June, however, Simonyan was also told by officials that he had only been on patrol duty. “I shot and was shot at. What do they mean by saying I did not participate in the fighting?”

Former soldier Pargev Khachatryan, who was awarded a medal for the return of a fighting position in Talish, has also encountered similar issues. His sister, Karine Khachatryan, said at the conference that her brother was in the combat positions at the time of the fighting and together with other soldiers he later returned the Talish position that had been seized by the Azerbaijani forces. Subsequently, Khachatryan received a medal for his service, and his participation in the combat operations was mentioned in his military card.

However, on January 20, 2017, right before his discharge, officials temporarily took away Khachatryan’s and other servicemen’s cards. Upon receiving his card back, Khachatryan discovered that a part of the entry had been erased with a razor and the word “not” had been squeezed in before the word “participation.” The family appealed to various state institutions, but the issue was only resolved after the information was reported in the media. Khachatryan was re-issued a military card which mentioned that he had participated in the battles.

Alik Avetisyan, head of the defense ministry center for human rights, for his part, argued that the above-mentioned young men had simply fulfilled their obligations and carried out combat duty. According to Avetisyan, the corresponding entries were only made in the military cards of direct participants of the fighting. “Many are currently carrying out combat duty and are no less worthy of getting the status of combatants,” he said, adding that the lists of the battle participant might still be reviewed.

Referring to Pargev Khachatryan’s issue, Avetisyan said there had been an oversight but he was unaware whether any person had been held liable for it.