By Ruzanna StepanianArmenian police officers who brutally broke up a opposition demonstration near President Robert Kocharian’s office in April 2004 were subsequently rewarded with cash, medals and even personal firearms, a radical opposition leader alleged on Friday.
The day-long protest marked the climax of an unsuccessful opposition campaign of street protests aimed at forcing Kocharian to step down. Hundreds of riot police backed by interior troops used water cannons, stun grenades and, according to some witness accounts, electric-shock equipment to disperse up to 3,000 people that camped near the presidential palace in Yerevan on the night from April 12-13, 2004.
More a hundred people were arrested on the spot and scores of others badly injured as the crowd fled the scene in panic. Security forces also beat up several photojournalists who covered the overnight protest, smashing their cameras and detaining some of them.
Local and international human rights groups strongly condemned what they saw as a disproportionate use of force at the time. The Armenian authorities rejected the criticism, saying that they prevented an opposition coup d’etat.
Aram Karapetian, the leader of the Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, unveiled on Friday what he described as copies of confidential directives issued by the chief of Armenia’s Police Service, Lieutenant-General Hayk Harutiunian, nine days after the crackdown. One of the alleged directives ordered payment of 20,000 drams ($54) in bonuses to mostly low-ranking policemen that quelled the protest. It credited them with maintaining “public order” and preventing “mass riots.”
According to Karapetian, Harutiunian also gave top police awards, including Bravery Medals, and expensive pistols to other, more high-level officers, notably Major-General Ashot Gizirian, chief of a feared police unit charged with combating organized crime and drug trafficking.
The Armenian police did not immediately comment on the allegations made at a meeting of a broad-based coalition of opposition groups fighting against what their leaders claim is a growing presence of “criminal elements” in the country’s leadership.
Karapetian told reporters that he got hold of the purported document copies after a tip-off from unknown informed individuals. “These documents were stashed somewhere,” he said. “They called me and said where.”
The oppositionist suggested that the anonymous callers work for the police. “I think there is a very serious group inside the police that thinks we just can’t carry on like this,” he said.