Armenian president dismisses entire security agency staff as protests continue

By bne IntelliNews August 11, 2016

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan dismissed the entire staff of the National Security Service (NSS) agency, Arka news agency reported on August 10. The head of state reportedly justified the move wiht his desire to enhance the "significance of national security" and commissioned his head of staff to submit a proposal for a new composition of the agency by September 1.

Sargsyan has come under fire in recent months over his administration's failure to defend the embattled Nagorno-Karabakh region from neighbouring Azerbaijan in April and after a prolonged hostage crisis in July that brought to light Armenians' dissatisfaction with Sargsyan's administration. The national security service was the main government body that handled the two-week-long standoff with a group of armed war veterans, and was also the institution that handled communication with the population during the ensuing street protests. Meanwhile, Sargsyan and other government officials remained largely mum about the events until after the attackers were captured. 

Recent events have called into question internal stability in Armenia, which is all the more worrisome given the fact that the country is in conflict with Azerbaijan. Dismissing the entire NSS staff is bound to erode the efficacy of the intelligence and security agency in the short term, at a time of political volatility in the country.

The country's prosecutor general also resigned after the July events.

Meanwhile, political unrest in the capital city of Yerevan continued on August 10, when a group of journalists took to the city's main Freedom Square to protest for freedom of speech and to decry the "blatantly aggressive attitude towards journalists in different branches of the government".

"During the Electric Yerevan protest action on June 23 last year, journalists were beaten as selected targets; to date, no one has been subjected to liability. And after the July events this year, two policemen were reported to be facing charges. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no guarantee that all those responsible [for violence] will incur an adequate punishment. That cannot continue anymore," demonstrators said in a joint letter. 

Watchdog Human Rights Watch reported that arbitrary beatings and detentions at the hands of authorities took place during the hostage crisis. During a peaceful protest on July 29, in particular, police forces reportedly beat dozens of demonstrators and journalists and used stun grenades to forcefully disperse the crowds.

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