The chief of the Armenian police warned opposition groups against destabilizing the political situation in the country with “unlawful” actions as his forces trained to use force against anti-government protesters over the weekend.
Hundreds of interior troops and other police personnel simulated a “special operation to prevent and disrupt mass disturbances” at the end of six-day training exercises in crowd control held at an airfield 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. They wore riot gear and used water cannons and tear gas.
A police statement said the exercises took place under a scenario whereby a rally sanctioned by authorities “turns into mass disturbances at the urging of a group of active participants.”
Armenia’s four main opposition parties plan to hold an unprecedented joint demonstration early next month to discuss the government’s response to a list of political and socioeconomic demands issued by them in June. Virtually none of those demands has been made so far, leading some opposition parties, notably the Armenian National Congress (HAK), to threaten a sustained campaign of anti-government street protests. Some opposition figures have spoken of a “heated political autumn” awaiting Armenia.
“I can reply with humor that there are cold showers for heated autumns. And when a shower doesn’t help we can organize a much more heated autumn,” Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the national police service, told reporters after watching the drills together with other police generals.
Armenia - Riot police practice practice crowd dispersal at the Arzni airfield, 13Sep2014.
“Any violation and especially assault on policemen would be strictly punished,” he warned.
Gasparian implied that anti-government unrest is all the more dangerous as it would encourage Azerbaijan to launch armed attacks along its border with Armenia and around Nagorno-Karabakh. “If heated autumns happen with violations of law I, as police chief, will not tolerate that because I know what unrest, wars, and wartime losses mean,” he said. “I know for sure that a violation of internal stability is directly connected with [the situation on] our border.”
“While serving my people with humility, I will not tolerate a situation where people kill and smash each other and the enemy takes advantage of that. God forbid anyone play with the country’s fate for the sake of their vanity, wealth, revanchism or I don’t know what,” added Gasparian.
By “revanchism” the police chief may have meant attempts by President Serzh Sarkisian’s predecessors, Levon Ter-Petrosian and Robert Kocharian, to prevent him from holding on to power for many more years. Ter-Petrosian is the top leader of the opposition HAK, while Kocharian is widely seen as the political patron of Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force.
The HAK, the BHK as well as the opposition Zharangutyun and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) parties have increasingly worked together in challenging the government over the past year. Their upcoming joint rally will mark another milestone in that cooperation.