Citizens should be able to express their support for Armenian soldiers of their own free will, Aram Manukyan, the secretary of the opposition Armenian National Congress faction, stated at the Armenian National Assembly today, during the second reading of the bill seeking a new tax for raising social benefits paid to the families of servicemen killed or seriously injured in action. According to the bill, the program will be financed from a fund to which every working Armenian citizen will be obligated to contribute 1,000 drams (about $2) per month.
“We are saying that the state should not impose its main function on the citizen; it has a duty to protect its soldiers’ lives and health. In an urgent situation and danger, citizens should be able to voluntarily engage in the protection of the soldiers, as they’ve been doing for the past 28 years better than the state or the government,” Manukyan said in his speech. “Let the citizen to willingly contribute as much as a hundred thousand drams [to the fund. You are obliging every working citizen to pay 1000 drams monthly, claiming that it’s of their own free will. No, this is a conceptual error. Let the state fulfill its responsibilities, and citizens will express their support voluntarily. You do not force someone to ‘respect their heroes.’ That’s not how this works.”
Opposition Heritage lawmaker Zaruhi Postanjyan, for her part, denounced the initiative as “monstrous” because it only touched those killed or wounded in potential wars. “We had over 100 casualties during the [four-day escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in April]. 20 of these soldiers, according to the report published by the Helsinki Citizens Assembly [Vandzor office], have died as a result of military hazing. This monstrous bill does not envisage any support for parents whose children are nor battle casualties. It should be obvious to everyone that this is largely a corruption bill and will benefit primarily the main corruptionist, Serzh Sargsyan.”
“Armenia’s authorities,” she went on, “foreknew about the four-day war, but they took no measures to prevent it so as to putt pressure on the people. And now those responsible for the war are proposing a new initiative to rob people of their money.”
Before her speech, Postanjyan had a brief altercation with ANC lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan, who had voted for the bill during the first reading and spoke positively of the initiative again during the debate today. Pashinyan countered those opposing the bill, insisting that authorities would not have any financial gains from the bill and the money collected from the citizens would actually go to the families of wounded and killed soldiers. Pashinyan’s speech angered Postanjyan, who shouted “you’re lying!” from her seat and added. “It will all go to Serzh’s pocket! How can you say that?”
The ANC representative, however, remained unfazed and proceeded with the following statement in support of his view; “There’ll be factual evidence: a person has either died or become disabled; the family has either received 10 million drams or not. It’s not like people are going to remain silent if there are not paid their money so as not to rat [authorities] out.”