Just two days after threatening a violent crackdown, Vladimir Gasparian, the flamboyant chief of the Armenian police, praised on Tuesday the “craziness” of young people continuing to occupy a key Yerevan street in protest against an electricity price hike.
Gasparian caused outrage and ridicule in Armenia with his menacing statements made during almost daily visits to the blocked section of Marshal Bagramian Avenue last week. He was particularly furious in scolding the protesters on Sunday evening.
Gasparian adopted a far more conciliatory tone when he approached and a struck up a conversation with a group of youngsters camped out there on Tuesday afternoon. “The police are powerful enough to deal with even against tens of thousands of people,” he told them. “But should they break up citizens, young people, my type of people?”
“Yes, I think that young people should, in a way, be a little crazy,” he said. “If they are not a bit brazen, nothing will work out and they’ll end up with chubby hands. And nothing comes out of chubby hands.”
“You are the future, you will be building this country, you will be sorting out its shortcomings,” Gasparian went on.
The remarks contrasted sharply with his bitter altercations with protesters in the days following the violent breakup of a demonstration on Marshal Bagramian Avenue on June 23.
“I am Vova Gasparian,” the police chief raged at a middle-aged man on Sunday evening as he approached a barricade built there, surrounded by his bodyguards and other high-ranking policemen.
"Switch off this microphone! Give it to me!" he ordered the protesters standing behind the barricade. “I’ll rip off your skin,” he said, wagging a finger at one of them.
The crowd booed and jeered in response before Gasparian gave it “30 minutes” to clear scene.
Gasparian was then further infuriated by a reporter’s questions about another use of force threatened by him. “Hey, listen to me! Do something for this country instead of wagging your tongue,” he told reporter.
“Get out of my sight!” he added before muttering an insult.
Gasparian similarly made headlines in Armenian newspapers and online publications after clashing with other protesters on Friday night. “Sober up!” he repeatedly yelled in anger.
The police chief known for his flamboyant and eccentric behavior, has been widely mocked on social media since then. Some critics have doctored and posted famous video clips featuring his now famous tirades.
Gasparian told his young interlocutors on Tuesday that their “craziness must be within boundaries of common sense and respect,” implicitly urging them to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue. A deputy chief of the Yerevan police, Valeri Osipian, echoed this appeal in more explicit terms when he visited the scene moments later.
Osipian reiterated that the protest can be forcibly dispersed by the police because it was not sanctioned by municipal authorities. But neither he nor Gasparian gave any indications that another police crackdown is imminent.
The protesters, meanwhile, remained adamant in carrying on with their unprecedented campaign and insisting that the Armenian authorities revoke a more than 17 percent rise in electricity prices.