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Armenian Defence Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s Speech on the Occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the Armenian Armed Forces
Honourable President, venerable Catholicos, dear guests, generals, officers, soldiers. Today we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of our army. This is a cause for celebration for every one of us. I stress words “every one of us” for us to remember once and for all that only the collective mind and effort are capable of creating a national army. I want to draw parallels between our epic and our army. An individual person, no matter how gifted, cannot conceive an epic on his own. An epic is created by the people. A nation creates its epic in the course of centuries, weaving its heroic and tragic pages of history into each word and each scene and distilling in it its talent, national aspirations and strength of imagination. Having gained wisdom from its history and learnt lessons from its past and the bloodshed and self-sacrifice of its sons, the same nation that conceived the epic also conceived the wonder child that had a calling to flesh out the national aspirations imbued in its epic.
Dear freedom-fighters, soldiers, officers, generals, fellow arms bearers, I do not disparage your role in creating our army in any way. Under the leadership of Vazgen Sargsyan, who was a valiant soldier dedicated to the cause our statehood and who revered the strength of Armenia and the strength of the Armenian soldier and who had a staunch belief in our future success, you were able to grasp the idea that had matured in the collective consciousness of the nation and to contribute to the establishment and consolidation of the army to the extent of your ability. 

The imperative of creating an army stemmed from the Armenian people and made us cast an examining look at our history once again. And history opened our eyes to painful realities. We have had many men-at-arms who have won victories for foreign countries, emperors under whose governance foreign countries have prospered, able diplomats and statesmen, who have bolstered the foundations of statehood of foreign countries. In the same historical time period, our country was destitute, barren and suffering under the yoke of enemies. Our revolts for independence were but intermittent, interrupted cries of remonstrance by our heroes woven into the heroic pages of our epic. We had left the battle to be fought by the nation to our heroes. 

At the beginning of the 20-th century we were downtrodden in our own land as we were weak and disunited. At the end of the 20-th century, God gave us yet another opportunity to cull lessons from the past, to come to terms with the sorrows of our fate and to look into the future with a vigorous and manly outlook. Fortunately, we used this opportunity. This time our nation shouldered the burden of its battle. We did mot invent the Artsakhi war. Our neighbours presented it to us. They served it to us on a Soviet tray. This time we realized that pleading justice with tears is, mildly speaking, a futile effort. We needed a change and, first of all, in our way of thinking. We had to earn the right to mold our national outlook with self-respect side by side with the nations of the world and we did win that right. 

Were we ready for war? Certainly not. Were our actions calculated and was the future visible? Certainly not. We did not enter this war of our own accord. We devised weapons, ammunition and mustered the resolve. The will of the Armenian nation was strong and unbreakable, but war has its rules and reliance on spirit only does not suffice for success. In modern warfare, where military technology and techniques play the key role, we needed to have a structure, all the constituent elements of which would operate in a balanced and interconnected way and where discipline would be the dominant factor. 

Building a national army was not the task of the government only. A nation-wide attention and care nurtured the army-building process. The army was born through difficulties, struggle, in the swaddling clothes of devotion of individuals and love of the society. To gain an in-depth understanding of the path of 15 years crossed by the Armenian army, it may be theoretically divided into three stages. I say “theoretically”, as the stages of army-building are not disconnected from each other. These are woven into one another. Generally speaking, temporal categories as applied to the army are illusory. An army day or year neither starts not ends: an army is structure without a beginning or end that perpetuates in a continuous process. 

The first phase encompasses the period from February 1988 until May 1992: given the expansion of the Karabakh movement and the extreme tension in the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, ensuring the security of the population of Armenia and Artsakh became a crucial issue. The Armenian volunteers describe the essence of this period, volunteers emanating from our epic, the spiritual successors to the Armenian freedom-fighters who have kept the reputation of the Armenian fighter intact for centuries. It is not by chance that the volunteer quads were named after Zoravar Andranik (Andranik the General), Arabo, Nikol Duman and other heroes’ names. Most of these spirited, devoted, romantic boys were known only by their nicknames, which they carried with pride and dignity. In this phase, the Armenian fighter discovered at the expense of his blood and through his spiritual fortitude the other facet of the atrocious essence of war, the inexplicable appeal of a Patriotic War. The phase was also characterised by spontaneity and lack of organization, which was replete with serious dangers. The situation called for another approach. 

The second phase started from June 1992 and lasted until May 1994, when the newly-independent Republic of Armenia, together with the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, having been drawn into a brutal war with Azerbaijan, with a corroded economy, famine-stricken and enduring the pain of its losses, was building its national army and connecting its future with it. The newly-created army contingents were being sent to the front after just several days of training. Today we may state with pride that in this period we made a little bit more progress in army-building than Azerbaijan. It was this “a little bit” that changed the course of the war and predetermined our victory. The perceptions of the world’s nations about the Armenians were edited under the strength of the victories of the Armenian army. The Armenian nation that bemoaned its tragedies to the world now imparted new qualities: fighting back and steadfast in its fight for freedom, an advocate of peace and democracy. The decisive factor in this phase of the war were also the three-month conscripts, who had no combat experience and became combatants in the battlefield itself. Many of them became martyred; some of them returned with handicaps, others were conscripted into the army until its victorious end. 

The third phase encompasses the period from June 1994 until today. This may be conditionally called the “phase of army-building”. The key slogan of the period after the ceasefire became the improvement of the combat-readiness of the army, i.e. sustainable development of the armed forces, improved training of the mid-level and senior officers, improved discipline, nurturing affection between society and army and improved living conditions for the military. In this phase, the army became a modern military and defence system undergoing consolidation and enhancement. 

The general enthusiasm of the fight for freedom soon gave way to the pernicious social-economic problems of the country, the wounds caused by the war started to smart and cause excruciating pain. 

After the cease-fire, life swirled in the rapid vortex of change: the families of the dead or wounded freedom-fighters who kept the fire of patriotism alight in the times hardship, would have been doomed to be in the poorest group of people due to the stratification of the society, if the government and also the Army did not assume responsibility for improving the lives of these people and shouldering the most difficult challenge of saving them from the gaping jaws of insecurity. We say the most difficult challenge as the number of people that had found themselves plunged into pain and misfortune was large but the resources for mitigating adversity were scarce. This is why, to this day, 12 years after the end of the war, despite the increasing funds allocated by the government each year, addressing the social problems of the dead and wounded freedom-fighters’ families remains a pressing issue and a cause for concern. 

The Army lost many officers during the war; hence after the cease-fire it set before itself the critical task of training officer cadres. The war showed that the modern army requires education rather than mere literacy from the soldier, and fundamental and specialized education at that. The army-building process needed trained cadres like air. Thank God, that just as in any other sphere, we haven’t had any shortage of potential for scientific expertise in military science as well. High-level government assistance was quick to follow and one after the other multi-specialty military colleges sprung to life to train military cadres locally: the present-day Military Institute named after Vazgen Sargsyan, Military Aviation Technical College, which later developed into the Military Aviation Institute named after Marshall Armenak Ghanperyants, and the Military Medicine Department within the Yerevan Medical University named after Mkhitar Heratsi. To this day, these educational institutions have trained about 4,430 officers for the Armenian Armed Forces. At the same time, officers have also been trained abroad: over 1,630 officers and cadets have been trained or are being trained today in military institutions, primarily in the Russian Federation (RF) and Greece. There is a significant difference between the Armenian officers of today and yesterday. Thanks to their level of education, the reputation of the army is growing in the eyes of the society. 

Just as in the case of science and culture and human life in general, the army also cannot develop without interaction and aspirations of mutual enhancement. From the viewpoint of development of military cooperation, Armenia’s membership in the Collective Security Treaty had a major significance. The Treaty became not only one of the key components of Armenia’s military security but it also opened new opportunities for further expansion of Armenian-Russian military cooperation. Today military cooperation both in a bilateral format with the RF and in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization is developing on the basis of the underlying solid legal and contractual framework. The best examples of this cooperation are the joint group of Armenian-Russian forces, common air defence system and joint patrol, the RF military base in Armenia and many other ventures. 

At the same time, steps have been taken by the Armenian government to enhance cooperation with the USA, European countries and Euro-Atlantic structures. Specifically, in 1994 Armenia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program, which heralded the beginning of a new phase in cooperation. Due to development of relations for several years, in 2005, Armenia and NATO launched the Individual Partnership Action Plan which lays out the course of cooperation in the next 10 years. Expanding military cooperation has also greatly contributed to the modernisation of the Army, introduction of international practices in the Armenian Armed Forces. The process is also successfully underway today and the efforts in military cooperation are mainly aimed at the reforms of Armenian’s defence sector. 

The level of our Army’s combat-readiness is demonstrated at the large-scale military exercises held every year, when the tactical strength and skills of the forces, the effectiveness of coordinated actions by various units and ultimately the coefficient of probability for winning the battle are clearly demonstrated. Contingents of our various branches of the armed forces have participated in numerous military exercises both with NATO and CSTO and have been given high appraisals. 

The axiom that an army’s strength stems from its discipline is very old. After the break-up of an old regime, when a change in the deep-rooted perceptions and criteria takes place in human consciousness, it is not an easy task to establish order among the youth bursting with boundless energy and swayed by various sentiments. The painful phenomena which were characteristic of the first years of forming the army and which were observed in relations among solders and between soldiers and commanders, were gradually toned down and steered into an orderly course due to consistent measures taken by the army leadership. Conscription, which is one of the most important army events, used to be accompanied with unsettling jolts. The level of trust of the people was low. It was an imperative task to establish a strong relationship between the army and society, to succeed in making even the most ardent pessimists notice the stepped-up improvement and enhancement in the life of the army, to make them realize and believe that this is not a foreign army and that it belongs to them and it needs their love and support. Certainly, all of this was left in the past, however it is to be noted that it took a long time to create an atmosphere of trust in the society for the army so that people would see off their sons to the army in the traditional way, with a happy heart (in high spirits) and with music. To achieve this, the daily life in the army had to become visible to the society. What would it take to achieve this? Simply the doors of army contingents were opened with confidence before the interested non-governmental organizations, journalists, and parents. The maliciously spun stories vanished when they saw proper army life, good food, warm and clean barracks and, above all, the strong desire by the command leadership to continuously improve the service and leisure conditions for the servicemen. 

The army has always been in the government’s centre of attention and has received much support from it. These are not merely word. The social conditions of the military personnel has significantly improved in recent years and, first of all, this is evident in the improved salary rates and improved accommodation, as well as quality medical service and leisure. 

Dear generals, officers, soldiers, several months ago you marched before the nation in a splendid military parade. Our fellow-countrymen saw the solid rows of the Armenian army, admired the march, weapons and the overall splendour. This certainly boosted our pride. A military parade is a military parade, but after all it is but a demonstration. I do not want to wheedle admiration from our nation merely through military parades. I want the army to please the eye and heart of the nation that gave birth to it and is nurturing it with its daily work, conduct and ethics. I want the Armenian officer to take his proper place in the society, so that his name becomes an equivalent to the notions of pride, self-sacrifice and decency. I want the nation to see in us its virtues, to see a soul in us that throbs for our country, to believe in us and to long to see its sons among us. I am confident that we are capable of changing; at least we are striving to achieve this goal. Those who are not capable of fulfilling the task set by the nation are leaving the army: there is no other alternative. 

Our nation is tired of being dragged into tragedies on the stage of history and wants to live like the other nations, governing its life, mind and soul, thanking God of all successes achieved and not blaming failures on “bad friends”. We gave peace to our nation, but we also have an obligation to help the nation live in peace. In this incoherent era and given the fear of the bargaining in progress, our society should feel the army’s gaze full of composure, its alertness, and moderation and striving for perfection. 

15 years ago the Armenian National Army was formed from the scattered streams of revolt. For 15 years it has been following a path of self-cleansing and ennoblement. 15 years is not even a moment in the uncharted course of history but this is a meaningful age for us. 

Honourable President, dear guests, I am confident that the Army will continue to fulfil with honour the tasks entrusted to it by the government and the people. The Armenian army is not frightened by the billions promised by the president of the neighbouring country to his army as combat-readiness is not merely a function of money as we have the will it takes and we are devoted to our Fatherland and we have the resolve to carry the struggle we started together with you exactly 19 years ago in 1988 until the end. We proved this in early 1990-s and we shall prove this tomorrow if needs be. 

I congratulate everyone on the occasion of the 15-th anniversary of the Army. May God protect our Army, glory to the Armenian soldier and long live the Republic of Armenia!
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