By Astghik BedevianDefense Minister Serzh Sarkisian presented Armenia’s interior troops with brand new riot equipment on Wednesday as they celebrated the 14th anniversary of their creation by the first post-Communist government in Yerevan.
The donation was announced on Sarkisian’s behalf by the chief of the Armenian army staff, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, during a high-level ceremony marking the event. “The police troops are given 250 rubber truncheons and 250 shields,” he told several hundreds of police officers and soldiers lined up on a parade ground in Yerevan.
Harutiunian did not specify the cost of the donation, presumably financed from the Defense Ministry budget.
Colonel Gegham Petrosian, chief of the interior troop staff, thanked the Armenian military for the unusual but perhaps symbolic gesture. He said that the donated truncheons and shields are a welcome addition to his forces’ arsenal of riot gear, which also includes water cannons, stun grenades and reportedly electric-shock equipment.
The interior troops as well as special police and other security forces had last made use of that arsenal in April 2003 during their heavy-handed dispersal of over two thousand opposition supporters that camped near President Robert Kocharian’s official residence in central Yerevan. The overnight protest marked the climax of an ill-fated opposition campaign to force Kocharian into resignation, which had stemmed from his hotly disputed reelection in March 2003.
Cynics in the Armenian opposition are certain to claim that say Sarkisian expects the security apparatus to take similarly tough action against those who will challenge his anticipated ascent to the presidency in 2008.
Petrosian, however, strongly denied any connection between Sarkisian’s “gift” and the 2008 presidential election. “We have never done and will never do anything against the people,” he told RFE/RL. The police would use force only against those who would commit “unlawful acts,” he said.