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Hard-Nosed Armenian Police Chief Draws Mockery, Anger

  • Claire Bigg

Up until two weeks ago, Vladimir Gasparian had rarely, if ever, made headlines outside his home country.

But with downtown Yerevan rocked by one of the most dramatic street protests to date in Armenia, the country's combative police chief is now finding himself in the limelight.

Gasparian has been blowing hot and cold on protesters of the so-called "Electric Yerevan" protest movement, who have been in the street since June 19 to denounce the authorities' decision to raise energy prices.

A former army chief known for his hard-nosed methods, he has been paying almost daily visits to the activists blocking the central Marshal Baghramian Avenue, in turn scolding and seeking to placate them.

"Switch off this microphone! Give it to me!" he ordered the protesters on June 28, menacingly wagging a finger at them (see video below) and giving them "30 minutes" to clear the scene.

WATCH: Yerevan Police Chief Gets Aggressive With Protesters

A day earlier, Gasparian had adopted a more conciliatory tone, promising a quick resolution of the energy issue following President Serzh Sarkisian's move to temporarily suspend the price hike. He went on to suggest that Armenia could soon regain control of its electricity network, which is entirely owned by the Russian energy company Inter-RAO.

The police chief has also lashed out at a lawmaker who came out to support the protesters and at several journalists.

Asked for a comment by a Ukrainian reporter on June 28, Gasparian barked "No!" at the journalist, who was swiftly pushed aside by his security guards.

"Get out of my sight!" he angrily shouted at another journalist. "Do something for this country instead of wagging your tongue!" He stormed away after calling the journalist a "calf."

So far, Gasparian's gruff tactics have failed to impress the protesters.

They have met his scolding with loud booing and continue to demand that Sarkisian revoke the energy price hike. They are also calling for the prosecution of police officers involved in a violent attempt to break up the protest on June 23.

Part of the reason for Gasparian's mediation fiasco is what is widely seen as the underlying cause of the protest -- anger over years of alleged corruption and unaccountability within Armenian authorities, embodied by officials like himself.

Protesters have been quick to mock the police chief on social media.

A spoof video of Chipolino, a Soviet-era cartoon about a population of vegetables oppressed by a ruthless leader called Lord Tomato, is making the rounds online.

The clip features the episode in which Lord Tomato's police chief reprimands the vegetables for "breathing less" after the government introduced a new tax on air. The video is overlaid with Gasparian's comments urging protesters to "come to their senses."

Online critics have also used Gasparian's now-famous tirade as a soundtrack for Braveheart, the medieval drama film starring Mel Gibson as the 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots against English troops.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​