Lieutenant-General Alik Sargsian, the chief of the Armenian police, was unexpectedly sacked without an official explanation on Tuesday amid reports that President Serzh Sarkisian is planning major personnel changes in the state apparatus.
Sarkisian was quick to replace him by Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Gasparian.
A statement by the presidential press office gave no reason for the dismissal. It said Sargsian will now serve as an adviser to the head of state.
The Armenian president also did not explain motives behind the sacking as he introduced Gasparian to senior police officials later in the day.
“I believe that today, the police of the Republic of Armenia need a leader like Vladimir Gasparian and I am convinced that he will accomplish tasks set before him with honor,” he said. “I am convinced that our people will feel more protected and that reforms in the police will continue.”
“This is a very normal development,” Alik Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone before that meeting. “Nothing is eternal and I will continue to serve the country, the country’s leader and our people till the end. Nothing will change in my life.”
That Sargsian is set to be sacked was first reported by Armenian media late on Monday.
The police general said he was informed about President Sarkisian’s decision only the next morning. “I see nothing strange in this fact,” he claimed.
Sargsian, who took over the national police service in 2008, insisted that he was fired not because of his track record. “My indicators are very good,” he said. “The situation with crime is under control and public order is maintained.”
Asked why he was relieved of his duties, the 54-year-old said, “It’s up to the president to decide.”
Gasparian, the new police chief, headed the Armenian military police for more than a decade before being appointed deputy defense minister last year. A native of Soviet Estonia, he served in the police in the early and mid-1990s.
Addressing the senior police staff in his new capacity, Gasparian, 53, pledged to uphold “the supremacy of the law” during his tenure. “It’s time to move from words to action,” he said. “I think that we will bring ongoing reforms in the police to their logical conclusion in a very short period of time.”
Neither Serzh Sarkisian, nor Gasparian gave details of those reforms.
Meanwhile, representatives of Armenia’s leading opposition forces suggested political reasons for Gasparian’s appointment and other high-level personnel changes in the government which a leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said are possible in the coming weeks and possibly days.
Aram Manukian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) portrayed Sargsian’s removal as a sign of government turmoil. “They themselves don’t understand what they are doing,” he said. “Alik Sargsian doesn’t know why he was sacked. Nobody in the Republican Party knows why [Yerevan Mayor] Karen Karapetian was sacked.”
“All decisions are made by one person and that person is confused,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
According to Armen Martirosian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, President Sarkisian is keen to install in key government positions more loyal individuals who will help the HHK win the May 2012 parliamentary elections at any cost.
“I have no doubts that this is connected with the forthcoming elections,” said Martirosian. “The authorities do not enjoy the people’s trust and so they will try to reproduce themselves in less than legitimate ways.”
But HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov denied any connection with the elections. “The state system is a live organism and one should not be surprised with such developments,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Sharmazanov also dismissed suggestions that Sarkisian is getting rid of individuals that could back his predecessor Robert Kocharian should the latter decide to return to the political arena.
Some media outlets claimed on Tuesday that one such individual, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Government Armen Gevorgian, will also lose his job. A spokeswoman for Gevorgian’s ministry denied those claims, however.