Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the Armenian police, on Thursday defended sweeping personnel changes initiated by him, saying that they are necessary for restoring popular trust in the law-enforcement agency.
In unusually blunt terms, Gasparian complained that the police have grown discredited in eyes of the public over the two decades of Armenia’s independence. “We, myself and my colleagues, have lost our self-esteem,” he told journalists.
“I have told my colleagues, my comrades with whom I have worked for years, ‘Guys, we have lost our moral authority, we have turned the police into an apparatus of tourists, real properties, moneylenders and village crooks.’ We have steadily lost that for the last 20 years. It’s time to sober up.”
A former deputy defense minister, Gasparian has sacked and replaced dozens of senior police officers since being appointed as police chief by President Serzh Sarkisian more than two months ago. He pledged to reform a police service that has long been accused of corruption and human rights abuses.
Speaking after a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Gasparian insisted that the purges are intended to improve the police performance by cutting “bloated staffs” and eliminating “redundant work” done by police officers.
“The police are now becoming more mobile and effective,” he said. “There are departing cadres who I think have exhausted themselves and they agree with me. There are even people who had the status of tourists and zero effectiveness. There have also been real properties [among officers.]”
Gasparian headed the Armenian military police for more than a decade before being appointed deputy defense minister in late 2010. A native of Soviet Estonia, he served in the police in the early and mid-1990s. He has been known to the public for his occasionally flamboyant behavior and statements.
Despite his reform pledges, the 53-year-old has so far said little about ill-treatment of criminal suspects and other police abuses that have long been the norm in Armenia. Nor has he commented on how to combat widespread corruption within the police ranks.
Many senior police officers are believed to be wealthy individuals with business interests. One of them, Colonel Margar Ohanian, the former head of the national traffic police, was arrested last September and is now standing trial on corruption charges.
Gasparian on Thursday dismissed his predecessor Alik Sargsian’s calls for Ohanian’s immediate release pending a verdict in the case. “I can’t make statements containing emotional wishes and don’t think I am the one who should express emotions just because I love or respect someone,” he said.
Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday that Ohanian should not be treated like an “ordinary criminal” because “he has served this country for 30 years.”