The officers of a Western-funded division of the Armenian police stopped a car and confronted its driver as they cleared the way for the motorcade driving through Vanadzor on Friday.
The driver, Rafik Avetisian, claimed on Monday that one of the officers sparked an altercation by disrespectfully berating him.
“I said, ‘Brother, I’m as old as your father, aren’t you ashamed of talking to me like that?’” Avetisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “He was like, ‘You’ll see what happens,’ and called up other officers.”
Avetisian said that moments later the policemen tried to arrest him, his 17-year-old son Radik and his brother-in-law, beating them up and spraying them with pepper gas in the process.
Radik was taken to Vanadzor’s main hospital after the incident and remained there on Monday. Doctors there said that he suffered four rib fractures.
“Three of them sprayed the boy with gas and started beating him,” said the young man’s uncle. “The boy suffers from asthma. He could have been poisoned by the gas.”
Rafik Avetisian acknowledged that his car nearly got in the motorcade’s way. But he insisted that he did not see the approaching government vehicles or block their passage.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that criminal proceedings have been launched against both the police officers and the Vanadzor men. It said that the latter could be charged with assault and “hooliganism” whereas the policemen are suspected of torture.
A statement by another law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, blamed the Avetisians and their friends and relatives for the incident. It said that they insulted and hit, including with a metal bar, one of the police officers.
The Vanadzor hospital administration told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that none of the officers received treatment there following the incident.
The Armenian police pledged, meanwhile, to conduct an internal inquiry into the officers’ actions.
Armenian opposition lawmakers were the first to publicize the incident. They presented it as the latest manifestation of impunity enjoyed by law-enforcement officers in charge of Pashinian’s personal security. One of the lawmakers recalled in that regard a pregnant woman who died in Yerevan last April after being hit by a police car escorting Pashinian’s motorcade.
The officers involved in the Vanadzor incident are members of the Patrol Service, a police unit set up last year with financial and technical assistance provided by the United States and the European Union.
The new police force was meant to introduce Western standards in road policing, street patrol and crowd control in Armenia. Armenian and Western officials have described its creation as a key element of police reforms announced by Pashinian’s administration.
“Our patrol service officers have skills and knowledge matching international standards, and the equipment that they will be provided … will help them use those skills to the best effect,” an EU statement released in November 2021 quoted a senior Armenian Justice Ministry official as saying.