By Emil Danielyan
Ashot Gizirian, the controversial chief of the Yerevan police department who reportedly beat a pro-government lawmaker in custody, has been moved to another senior post in the Armenian interior ministry, officials confirmed on Saturday.
A ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that Gizirian will now head one of the ministry’s most powerful divisions in charge of fighting organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking. He would not say whether the move was connected to the recent torture allegations which were reportedly endorsed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
“We do not comment on staff changes in the interior ministry,” the official said.
Gizirian’s move came one month after the arrest and reported mistreatment of Gevorg Hakobian, a parliament deputy from the pro-government Miasnutyun (Unity) faction. Hakobian was detained on July 9 after a verbal argument with the city’s chief policeman and claims to have been beaten up in custody. He is said to have spent five hours in the city’s police headquarters where he was allegedly attacked by Gizirian and other senior officers.
The interior ministry has denied the charges, saying that the lawmaker was held by traffic police on suspicion of drunken driving and was not subjected to violence.
The incident drew angry protests from some of Hakobian’s colleagues, including parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian. Several Miasnutyun deputies announced their intention to leave the largest faction of the Armenian parliament, accusing its leader Galust Sahakian of helping the police hush up the scandal. They said premier Markarian shares their concerns and promised them to punish Gizirian.
None of protesting deputies could be reached for comment on Saturday.
Individuals familiar with Armenia’s biggest law-enforcement agency differ on whether Gizirian’s transfer should be considered a promotion or demotion. Most of those asked by RFE/RL believe that Gizirian will be less powerful in his new capacity.
Still, the heads of the interior ministry’s much feared anti-organized crime unit, better known to most Armenians as “the sixth department,” have wielded considerable power for the past ten years, controlling, in particular, special police squads trained to deal with serious crimes. They have also been accused of illegally engaging in economic activity.
The Yerevan police will now be run by Aram Zakharian who previously worked as head of the police department in the central Aragatsotn province.