Armenian human rights activists denounced on Friday Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s decision to appoint a controversial police officer as the new head of the national police service.
Pashinian announced the surprise appointment of Colonel Valeri Osipian on Thursday hours after initiating the dismissal of the previous police chief, Vladimir Gasparian.
Osipian has until now been a deputy head of Yerevan’s police department responsible for public order and crowd control. He has been personally present 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.
Pashinian noted the “symbolic significance” of his choice of the new police chief, saying that it will help to end a “culture of barbed wire in Armenia.”
Human rights campaigners and civic and opposition activists, who have been very supportive of the Pashinian-led protest movement, were unimpressed, however, strongly criticizing the appointment on social media. They have for years accused Osipian of sanctioning excessive use of force against and mass detentions of protesters.
“Valeri Osipian’s appointment as chief of the police was a disgraceful decision,” Artur Sakunts, a prominent human rights campaigner, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am)
“I assess that appointment extremely negatively because he is one of those individuals who led police actions during numerous demonstrations and other protests,” said Sakunts. He also accused Sakunts of helping to cover up a 2014 knife attack in Yerevan which was reportedly carried out by the officer’s nephew.
“This is a bad appointment, and the public will continue to resent and revolt against it,” agreed Zhanna Aleksanian, another human rights activist. “Nikol Pashinian and people around him had better think about that.”
Pashinian defended his decision on Friday. He argued that under Armenian law the police can be headed only by career officers holding the rank of general or at least colonel. “It was clear that no choice of police chief would have been accepted unanimously,” he said.
The premier introduced Osipian to high-ranking police officials later in the day. He said one of Osipian’s main tasks will be to crack down on corruption in the police ranks.
“Rest assured that corruption will be eliminated,” Osipian told reporters. He said he accepted the new post to show that “the police really stand with the people.”
Meanwhile, the first deputy chief of the police, General Hunan Poghosian, announced his resignation. In a written statement, Poghosian gave no reason for his decision.
Pashinian pledged to fire Levon Yeranosian, another police general who has headed Armenian interior troops. Yeranosian has for years been accused of committing grave human rights abuses.