YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serzh Sarkisian has awarded a state medal to the controversial commander of Armenian interior troops who played a key role in last July’s violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan.
General Levon Yeranosian, who is also a deputy chief of the national police, received the Medal for the Excellent Maintenance of Public Order through a presidential decree publicized late last week. The decree noted his “significant” contributions to “law and order” in the country.
Yeranosian was among high-ranking police officers that personally ordered and oversaw the use of what many in Armenia consider excessive force against scores of people who took to the streets to voice support for opposition gunmen occupying a police station.
Late on July 29, the protesters marched to Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood close to the besieged police facility in the Erebuni district. Firing stun grenades and tear gas, riot police dispersed the crowd after it ignored their demands to leave the “dangerous” area and go back to the city center.
More than 60 people were injured and hospitalized as a result. As the crowd fled Sari Tagh at least 14 journalists were ambushed and beaten up by a large group of plainclothes men wielding sticks.
Armenia’s leading opposition parties as well as local and international human rights groups strongly condemned the crackdown. The Armenian police responded by launching an “internal inquiry” into the violence. Five police officers, including Yeranosian’s brother Lernik, were suspended as a result.
The Sari Tagh violence broke out moments after Yeranosian shouted abuse at Zaruhi Postanjian, an opposition parliamentarian and one of the organizers of the protest.
“It’s hard to characterize [the award] with decent words,” Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday. “If I were a man, I would publicly swear at the one who awarded [the medal.]”
Avetik Ishkhanian, a prominent human rights campaigner, also deplored the medal given to Yeranosian. He said the notorious police general was awarded for his loyalty to the ruling regime, rather than professional qualities.
“It is widely known that our country is not democratic. And the police defend the interests of the authorities, rather than the public,” charged Ishkhanian.
But Hakob Hakobian, a pro-government lawmaker, defended the presidential decree. “As a policeman, Levon Yeranosian fully performed his duties,” he said.