Vladimir Gasparian

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Rights Groups Skeptical About New Police Chief

02.11.2011 Naira Bulghadarian Human rights abuses committed by Armenian law-enforcement bodies will likely continue unabated under the new chief of the national police, Vladimir Gasparian, well-known civil rights activists said on Wednesday.

Gasparian, who previously held senior positions in the military, pledged to uphold “the supremacy of the law” and continue “ongoing reforms in the police” as he was introduced to senior police officials by President Serzh Sarkisian on Tuesday.

Representatives of some of Armenia’s leading civic groups were highly skeptical on that score. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), they pointed to Gasparian’s controversial track record in the Defense Ministry and the military police, which he headed from 1997-2010.

Gasparian was dismissed as military police chief and appointed deputy minister of defense late last year amid a mounting public outcry against continuing non-combat deaths of Armenian soldiers.

“Gasparian is notorious for his crude methods, and so I think that nothing will change for us,” said Mikael Danielian of the Armenian Helsinki Association. “Things will remain the same. Perhaps [police] actions will become a bit more drastic and violent.”

Levon Barseghian, the chairman of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists Club actively campaigning against army crime, agreed. “I don’t expect a tangible change for the better or the worse from this appointment,” he said.

“He will carry on with his aggressive behavior and, like his predecessor [Alik Sargsian,] will use the entire police apparatus at his disposal against human rights,” claimed Barseghian.

Police brutality has long been regarded by local and international watchdogs as one of the most frequent forms of human rights violation in Armenia. They say law-enforcement officers continue to routinely ill-treat criminal suspects in custody. It is not clear whether the police reforms mentioned by both President Sarkisian and Gasparian are meant to address that problem.

Barseghian and Zhanna Aleksanian, a veteran reporter heading the Journalists for Human Rights group, also cited Gasparian’s recent harsh attacks on civic activists who believe that the country’s military leadership is doing little to end the army deaths.

Gasparian charged last month they do not care about Armenia and its armed forces because their activities are often financed by foreign donors.

“He is simply unable to engage in sustained contacts with the civil society or reach compromises,” said Aleksanian.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Wednesday that at least three senior police officers have resigned from the national police service after Gasparian’s appointment.

One of them, Karen Babayan, who headed the police station at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport, essentially confirmed reports that he quit because he does not want to work for the new police chief. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Babayan refused to comment further.

The two other officers could not be reached for comment. One of them works at a feared police unit tasked with combating serious crimes.