By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian announced on Wednesday a major restructuring of Armenia’s two main law-enforcement agencies in accordance with two recently enacted laws that will likely strengthen his control of the security apparatus.
A presidential decree downgraded the status of the Interior Ministry and the National Security Ministry. They will now be called the Police and the National Security respectively.
Their influential heads, Hayk Harutiunian and Karlos Petrosian, kept their jobs but will no longer have a ministerial rank and be considered members of the governing cabinet.
The move, which stems from two laws on police and national security adopted by the parliament last summer, is seen as a prelude to a sweeping overhaul of the former Interior Ministry. Sources told RFE/RL that its interior troops as well as the investigations and immigration divisions will eventually be split from the newly formed police agency. It is also expected to undergo major staff cuts.
The country’s president, in particular, will be empowered to appoint the commander of the interior troops and deputy police chiefs. Deputy interior ministers were previously named by the prime minister.
The planned restructuring, which the authorities say is in tune with Armenia’s integration into various European bodies, faced strong criticism in the parliament last summer. Its most outspoken opponent, Gagik Kostandian, said the legislation could weaken the law-enforcement system and increase the crime rate which is now one of the lowest in the former Soviet Union. Kostandian, who is a retired police officer, accused Kocharian of seeking more powers at the expense of national security.
There was also speculation linking the police reform to an infighting among Kocharian’s senior loyalists. The pro-presidential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party has reportedly sought the post of interior minister for its leader Vahan Hovannisian -- something which is said to have been opposed by the powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Hovannisian, who chairs the parliament’s standing committee on defense and security, was one of the authors of the police legislation. Some newspapers presented its passage as the result of a compromise deal between the two government factions.
In a similar move last month, Kocharian renamed the Ministry for State Revenues into the State Taxation Service.
(Fotolur photo: Karlos Petrosian, left, and Hayk Harutiunian)