The establishment of the Border Reserve Forces by “Arar” and the Defense Ministry

In 2015, Armenia’s Defense Ministry, in collaboration with the “Arar” Civic Research Foundation, launched the “Border Reserve Forces” program, centered in the region of Tavush. The Ministry conducts combat exercises for reservists and volunteers, while the Foundation prepares the civilian population for those exercises in exchange for remuneration.

Starting in 2017, this program, which now includes border communities in the regions of Ararat, Kegharkounik, and Vayots Tsor, has received funding through the state. At the same time, the “Arar” Foundation has been providing organizational support for this project.

The Mobilization of Forces

Probing the launch and significance of this Border Reserves program, Mediamax interviewed some of the individuals involved with the project.

According to the co-founder of the “Aras” Foundation, Avedik Chalapyan, the necessity of such a program was already evident a long time ago, but it was only in 2014, when signs increasingly began to point towards a new campaign of Azeri military aggression against Karabakh, that a sense of urgency started to set in, making a thorough mobilization of forces an absolute requisite.

He explains: “Armenians living at or near the border should always be ready in the event of any military operation. We presented the idea to former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan and his first deputy David Tonoyan. After a series of back-and-forth and adjustments, we launched the joint pilot project”.

In his view, the best way to prevent war is to always be ready for it, a line which calls to mind the famous Latin adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war”. He believes this is an excellent deterrent to the enemy’s resolve.

An Informal Character

These combat exercises in border areas are just the start of our program. In the near future, every adult citizen must work on and improve his or her military knowledge, at least every five years. There’s an enormous opportunity here. We’ve noticed great enthusiasm among those who were enrolled in the program, suggesting that we should continue and even expand this”, notes Avedik Chalapyan.

According to him, before the onset of the exercise program, periodic rallies of military reserves were held in Armenia, although there are some notable distinctions.

There were often cases where people would be gathered, kept formally busy for a day or two, and then released. But the ever-looming threat of war, combined with the dangerous location of the combat exercises (right near the border), contributed to a shift in the overall sentiment. People began to take the importance of military preparedness much more seriously, and as a result, the state now had fresh resources to use in its goal of safeguarding some of the most vulnerable portions of its territory. Some of those who participated in the combat exercises would later join the Ministry of Defense and MES units, while the rest would play important roles in the Four-Day War of April 2016, helping to quickly replenish combat positions in an organized fashion”, notes Avedik Chalapyan.

He further adds: “The program is ongoing to this day, though with greater scope than before. We are very pleased with the consistent attitude demonstrated by the Ministry of Defense with regards to this project, and we salute the active participation of our citizens. We hope that it endures, and we are always ready to sustain and bolster it”.

Without the Involvement of the Military Commissariat

George Tabakyan, Executive Director of the Foundation, recalls how, during the April War, these reserve forces were called upon by the Military Commissariat without any time being wasted and were assigned roles alongside State Border Guards.

George Tabakyan, standing alongside reservists

He points out: “In Tavush, the reservists organized and worked mostly autonomously, without needing the help of the Military Commissariat. The program equipped them with sufficient knowledge and military training, giving them a great amount of confidence in the security of their homes and families, a significant psychological advantage”.

Voluntarily and with great pleasure

Tigran Harutunyan, a resident of the Perkaper community and one of the many participants in the program, spoke to us about its importance, revealing how it helped upgrade his own limited military knowledge.

He says: “All of us have been participating in this program voluntarily and with great pleasure, because this way we feel as if we are being truly helpful to and responsible before our community, our families, and our soldiers”.

Press Secretary of the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan observes that programs such as this one are of considerable importance, and that the preliminary results coupled with the responsiveness of the participants are inspiring. As an aside, participants include not just men, but also women, children, adults, all of whom seem enthusiastic in their willingness to get involved.

The work done by the “Arar” Foundation is typically set apart by a high level of dedication and professionalism, one of the factors behind the success of the program”, he explains.

The Armenian woman standing beside her husband

Samvel Saghoyan, head of the border village of Chinari, also attaches great importance to the program. He notes that during the Four-Day War, in addition to the men, 8 women from Chinari also performed military service.

As always, the Armenian woman stood beside her husband, her father and her brother, and this generated a positive response in the village. The women felt an equal sense of awareness and responsibility to protect their lands and their homes. About 60 residents of Chinari chose to enroll in the program, though during the Four-Day War, some 120 people served as volunteers or reservists, defending our border”, describes Saghoyan.

David Tonoyan, Minister of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Armenia and former First Deputy Minister of Defense, notes that “it is especially important for people living in frontier settlements to be ready to respond appropriately to the enemy’s aggression in an organized and effective fashion, in defense of their homes”.

Mr. Tonoyan adds that the project realized by the “Arar” Foundation and the Ministry of Defense broadened and expanded precisely because the Ministry of Defense, in assessing its impacts, found the pilot project to be very expedient and deemed it necessary to organize such gatherings and exercises in all of the frontier communities in Armenia.

As an aside, the Ministry of Emergency Situations also works to ensure the security of the border communities during the exercises and their safety in case of potential displacements. Considering the safety and readiness of the population a priority, the Ministry devises various plans and programs that would help in responding to and dealing with an emergency situation such as a possible displacement.

To that end, rescue units and bases have been created in those frontier communities for the purpose of territorial defense, with regular replenishment of equipment. Structural units created by the Ministry of Emergency Situations include two detachments dedicated to the protection of ‘special objects’ along with 10 bases. These detachments ensure the protection of critical infrastructure such as water reservoirs and bridges as well as the organization of guard services, among other goals.

Siranush Yeghiazaryan

Translated by Gorun Koyounian

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