Colonel Artur Umrshatian has headed the Patrol Service since it was set up in 2021 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 Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s administration.
The Armenian Interior Ministry gave no reasons for Umrshatian’s sacking announced on Thursday. The ministry’s press service refused to comment on it afterwards.
The development came six days after a car raced chaotically through Yerevan’s central Republic Square, driving on its sidewalks and nearly running over pedestrians. On-duty Patrol Service officers reportedly took more than 20 minutes to stop the large SUV despite firing gunshots at its wheels. Its apparently intoxicated driver managed to flee the scene but was arrested a few hours later.
The incident was caught on mobile phone cameras and widely circulated on social media, prompting a wave of criticism and ridicule from many users. Critics of the government claimed that it exposed a lack of professionalism within the Patrol Service whose officers reportedly have much higher wages than other security personnel in Armenia.
The Armenian police did not respond to the criticism. Still, two Patrol Service officers were fired earlier this week. One of them, Roman Mirzakhanian, was hit and injured by the car during the February 10 incident.
Daniel Ioannisian, a civic activist monitoring the police, deplored the ensuing sacking of Umrshatian. Ioannisian said that the latter was at the forefront of police reforms and prevented nepotism and other corrupt practices within the Patrol Service.
“There is resistance [to reforms] because Patrol Service officers treat officers of other security bodies and ordinary citizens equally on the streets of Yerevan,” he said. “Just recently, for example, a National Security Service lieutenant-colonel was stripped of his driving license.”
Ioannisian also claimed that for the same reason the Patrol Service personnel are subjected to disciplinary action more frequently than officers of other police divisions.
Ioannisian’s Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) and two other non-governmental organizations strongly criticized last month Pashinian’s decision to appoint Vahe Ghazarian, the national police chief and his reputed childhood friend, as interior minister. They pulled out of a government body coordinating police reforms in protest.
Over the past year, the Patrol Service has also faced allegations of ill-treatment of citizens. In particular, its officers clashed last November with several residents of Vanadzor after accusing them of interfering with Pashinian’s motorcade. One of those residents was hospitalized as a result.