By Emil Danielyan
President Serzh Sarkisian continued to reshuffle the higher echelon of Armenia’s security apparatus on Wednesday when he dismissed the commander of national interior troops that played a major role in the suppression of post-election opposition protests in Yerevan.
Sources told RFE/RL that Sarkisian will also appoint one of his assistants, Gevorg Mherian, as deputy chief of the Armenian police. The information was not immediately confirmed by the presidential administration, though.
Announcing the personnel change, Sarkisian’s office gave no reason for the sacking of Grigor Grigorian, the hitherto chief of the security force officially called Police Troops. Grigorian’s replacement, Garegin Gabrielian, is a senior army officer who headed Armenia’s main military academy until now.
The presidential decree came roughly one month after the sacking of Hayk Harutiunian, chief of the national Police Service, and his first deputy, Ararat Mahtesian. Harutiunian was replaced by Alik Sargsian, a former police officer who previously served as governor of the southern Ararat region.
Harutiunian was subsequently appointed as head of another security agency which is in charge of protecting the president of the republic and other high-ranking state officials. The State Protection Service was previously run by Grigori Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh), one of the country’s most powerful men very close to former President Robert Kocharian.
Reports in independent and opposition-linked Armenian newspapers have said the influential Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian is also likely to lose his job.
Some local commentators believe that the ongoing reshuffle is part of President Sarkisian’s efforts to distance himself from key organizers of the bloody suppression of massive anti-government demonstrations staged by the Armenian opposition following last February’s disputed presidential election.
At least ten people were killed and more than 100 others injured as security forces put an end to the daily protests on March 1-2. While defending the use of force in a Russian newspaper interview last week, Sarkisian said that three of the eight civilian victims died as a result of “special means” that might have been “wrongly” used by riot troops.
It was not clear if he referred to Police Troops or other security units involved in the crackdown. The two security officers killed in the clashes in still unclear circumstances served in interior troops.
According to another theory circulating in Yerevan, Sarkisian is simply cementing his grip on power by placing trusted loyalists in key security positions.