Breaking Grounds: Gyumri
Breaking Grounds: Gyumri

Women Join the Ranks of Armenia's Military

Take a tour of the Armenian Defense Ministry's elite academies and you'll meet aspiring officers and veterans who embody the country's strength and resilience. They are highly skilled and ready to serve. Many of them also shatter stereotypes.

They're women.

Last June, the two main military academies in Armenia, the Vazgen Sargsyan Military Institute and the Marshal Khanpertsian Institute of Military Aviation, announced that for tine first time in history they are allowing women to enroll. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian described the deci­sion as "part of large-scale reforms in the army" that will enable women to gain "higher military education and pro­fessional growth." The applications flooded in.

Just a few weeks after the new policy was introduced, the academies' first female students began training along­side their male peers. These young women have their sights set on becoming air force pilots, officers in reconnaissance units, and, if given the chance, commanders. It's not completely uncharted territory: between 1992 and 1994, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, an estimated 600 women answered the call to arms and volunteered as soldiers, doctors and nurses. 18 lost their lives.

Over 1,400 women serve today in Armenia's armed forces. The vast majority holds clerical positions, but others have risen through the ranks. Their journey hasn't been easy: they juggle work with their personal lives and family obligations. It's a delicate balancing act, and while the academies' new policy is encouraging, women soldiers must continue to prove that they are able to contribute as much as their male counterparts. Fierce determination and unwavering patriotism have carried them through, and now they're passing the baton onto their sisters, the newest recruits who are joining the academies.

Reaching Greater Heights: Women Prepare to Join the Air Force

The women are decidedly more conscientious and disciplined; they learn faster and better. Thanks to them our nation can have faith in the future."

Colonel Daniel Balalyan, director of the Marshal Khanpertsian Institute of Military Aviation, is the first to praise the institute's new female students. With over thirty years of military experience, he's a good judge. He works directly with three women who enrolled last year, Emma (22), Tatevik (23) and Ani (26). They're not only the first women to enter the program; they're also the first to work in ground control, overseeing radio signals.

While the transition into the institute was challenging at first, the women quickly acclimated. Between the three of them, they hold degrees in architecture, law and psychology (the academies require that all applicants have high school degrees and pass exams in math and physics). Within a year Emma, Tatevik and Ani will also receive diplomas from the academy. They each plan to then pursue the rank of lieutenant, the first of many exciting steps in their military careers.

The women are the granddaughters, daughters and sisters of military veterans. They are eager to uphold family traditions. But ambition doesn't just run in their families, it's in their nature.

Tatevik remarks, "We have the strength of character combined with a sensitivity which is lacking in men." That strength and sensibility will continue to serve them as they serve their country.

Breaking New Ground: Female Soldiers Train for the Military

Armine is a 35-year-old lieutenant and instructor in the Yerevan Special Forces, with four years of military experience. She's a master sharpshooter and paratrooper, and is an instructor in both fields.

Her mantra is "there's nothing a woman soldier doesn't know bet­ter than a man." It's a common refrain among women in the service, and one that Armine's two apprentices, 22-year old Tamara and 27-year-old Mariam have also picked up. After training with Armine, both women are now rising stars in their field.

The military has helped them grow professionally and personally, as they enjoy the prestige that comes with their positions. Mariam, in particular, has overcome the stigma attached to being divorced. She's raising her four-year-old daughter, and has bonded with Armine, who is also a single parent. Together, they're managing the demands of the military and motherhood.

Aida’s Fight for Peace

A decorated veteran of the Karabakh war, Aida teaches courses in military culture at the Yerevan State College of Humanities. She I J B has over 16 years of military experience, beginning in 1989 when she joined the war effort as a doctor. It didn't take long for her to trade her scrubs for a uniform and move to the frontlines of combat with the men.

To this day, Aida carries photographs of herself, the edges yellowed and creased. In those pictures she appears with much shorter hair, smiling alongside her fellow soldiers, many of whom would never return home from the war. She remembers them fondly, just as she remembers the wounded enemies she aided and the prisoners she visited.

Following the 1994 ceasefire agreement, Aida returned home to her three children and her parents. Out of the four female soldiers she be­friended in the field, she was the only survivor. She and those women had made a pact that they would initiate a support group when the war was over, and Aida kept the promise.

In 1998, she founded a group that provides support to veterans and their families. Today, it serves 265 members. She remained active in the army until 2008, when she left due to health problems: she suffers from severe headaches resulting from exposure to explosions. Now you'll find Aida in the classroom teaching young students the basics of the techniques and equipment that helped her succeed.

Aida is a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, and a former soldier who knows the horrors of war too well to welcome another conflict. She believes Armenia will maintain peace only by careful preparation. It's up to the next generation of officers to ensure that security—men and women alike.

Originally published in the April 2014 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. Archived content may appear distorted on your screen. end character

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AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.