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Armenia: Top Police, Security Officials Dismissed

By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielian Is President Sarkisian (left) removing his predecessor Kocharian's people? (Photolur) In recent days, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has dismissed both the head of the State Protection Service, Girgory Sarkisian (to whom he is not related) and national police chief Lieutenant General Hayk Harutiunian in what some observers believe is an attempt to distance himself from men who played a key role in the crackdown in Yerevan on March 1-2 on opposition demonstrators protesting the perceived falsification of the February 19 presidential ballot. At least 10 people died during or as a result of injuries received in that crackdown.

by Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielian

Other commentators, however, suggest that President Sarkisian has begun a methodical purge of senior officials with close ties to his predecessor, Robert Kocharian.

The presidential administration issued a statement on May 27 announcing Grigory Sarkisian's dismissal, but did not offer any explanation for it. Sarkisian, who has headed the State Protection Service, which is responsible for the personal security of the country's most senior officials, since it was founded in 2004, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that he tendered his resignation several days previously "because the president wanted it," and that he will be named to another, unspecified position. Asked whether he might head the police force, he replied, "probably not."

Grigory Sarkisian was born and grew up in the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, as was former President Kocharian, to whom he reportedly has close ties. He earlier served as head of Kocharian's bodyguard.

Unconfirmed press reports claim that he is increasingly at odds with a third Karabakh Armenian, Vahe Ghazarian, who has long been responsible for Serzh Sarkisian's personal security. Grigory Sarkisian was present when police set about expelling opposition protesters from Liberty Square in Yerevan early on March 1, and former President and defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian claims that Sarkisian served as mediator in talks between Kocharian and Ter-Petrossian later on March 1 that failed to prevent the renewed clashes that evening.

On May 29, Sarkisian issued a decree firing Harutiunian, who was named interior minister in the wake of the October 1999 parliament shootings, but stripped of his ministerial status three years later while retaining responsibility for the police force. Again, no reason was cited for Harutiunian's dismissal.

Sarkisian named to succeed Harutiunian as police chief Alik Sargsian, who occupied senior positions within the police departments in Yerevan and the southern region of Ararat prior to his appointment as Ararat regional governor in 2000. Sargsian is said to be close to presidential chief of staff Hovik Abrahamian, whose regional power base is Ararat.