YEREVAN (RFE/RL) –Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian has provoked a storm of criticism for launching a fundraising campaign for the medical treatment abroad of an Armenian soldier seriously wounded during his military service.
In a weekend Facebook post, Sargsian said that the soldier, Albert Dallakian, needs $45,000 to undergo surgery in a foreign clinic. He argued that Armenian law bars the government from covering Dallakian’s medical expenses because the required operation can also be performed in Armenia.
“But the likelihood of Albert’s quick recovery would be much higher in foreign clinics which have much greater experience and skills on this matter,” wrote Sargsian. “So I advised his family to collect the required sum through such fundraising. I personally and several of my friends will provide 10 percent of the necessary $45,000.”
The appeal for private donations triggered a torrent of angry comments from Facebook users who said that the Armenian military is obliged to ensure adequate treatment for soldiers without turning to private citizens for financial assistance.
Many of them pointed out that it was Sargsian who engineered in late 2016 a special tax for raising financial compensations to the families of soldiers killed or seriously wounded in action. Others said the government should cut back on spending on personal needs of senior military officials and use that money for soldiers’ treatment.
The minister angrily responded to one abusive comment and blocked other critics, who also used offensive language, from his social media account.
Some opposition politicians added their voice to the chorus of disapproval on Monday. One of them, Aram Sarkisian of the Yelk alliance, suggested with sarcasm that the minister be appointed head of a Armenia Fund.
“[Privately] raising money is definitely not the defense minister’s function,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenians service (Azatutyun.am). “This is not how such problems must be solved. There are state mechanisms for solving such problems.”
Another Yelk leader, Nikol Pashinian, described Sargsian’s initiative as “strange” and “inappropriate.”
But Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), dismissed the criticism. “I see nothing extraordinary [in Sargsian’s initiative,]” he said. “Furthermore, I think that the defense minister has acted like a normal, caring person.”
Seyran Saroyan, a retired army general elected to the Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket, also defended the 42-year-old minister. “He’s written a seven-year plan on strengthening our army. Instead of helping the guy [implement it] we are going after him,” complained Saroyan.