Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian initiated on Thursday the dismissal of the heads of Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) who had been appointed by his predecessor Serzh Sarkisian.
The police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, and the NSS director, Georgi Kutoyan, were formally relieved of their duties by President Armen Sarkissian. The presidential decrees were requested by Pashinian earlier in the day.
Gasparian, 59, has headed the national police service since 2011, while the 36-year-old Kutoyan was named to run the NSS in 2016. Kutoyan previously worked as an assistant to Serzh Sarkisian, who was Armenia’s president from 2008-2018.
The NSS is the successor agency to the former Armenian branch of the KGB, the Soviet secret police.
Pashinian gave no reasons when he announced the impending dismissal of the two men in the morning. He named their replacements later in the day.
The new NSS chief, Artur Vanetsian, is a 38-year-old officer who has worked for the powerful security agency for the last 15 or so years. Vanetsian has the rank of NSS colonel.
Gasparian will be succeeded as police chief by Valeri Osipian, until now a deputy head of Yerevan’s police department responsible for public order and crowd control. Osipian has been a fixture at just about every major anti-government rally staged in the Armenian capital in the past decade.
He frequently warned and argued with Pashinian during the anti-government protests which the former opposition leader launched on April 13 in a successful attempt to topple Serzh Sarkisian. Osipian publicly congratulated and hugged Pashinian after the latter was appointed as prime minister on Tuesday.
Pashinian emphasized the “symbolic significance” of Osipian’s unexpected appointment. “It’s a good symbol for us to try to eliminate that culture of barbed wire in Armenia,” he wrote on Facebook.
Pashinian has yet to appoint any members of his cabinet. He has promised to form a “government of accord” as a result of consultations with political forces represented in the Armenian parliament. He met on Thursday with Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Baghdasarian said after the meeting that the HHK, which holds the majority of seats in the parliament, will not propose any ministerial candidates. He made clear at the same time that it will not prevent HHK members, among them several acting ministers, from joining Pashinian’s cabinet. They would only be ordered to suspend their membership in the party, Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Baghdasarian also indicated that the parliament majority is ready to vote for the new government’s policy program which Pashinian is expected to submit to lawmakers later this month. “I don’t think that the newly elected prime minister could bring a program containing provisions that will lead us to vote against it,” he said.
The HHK majority reluctantly agreed to Pashinian’s becoming prime minister on Tuesday after weeks of massive protests organized by the opposition leader in Yerevan and other parts of the country. The protests forced Serzh Sarkisian to resign as prime minister on April 23.