YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–U.S instructors will soon launch a training course for Armenian riot police on new and less heavy-handed methods of crowd control practiced in the West, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
“At the request of the Armenian government, we are soon going to be sponsoring some training in public order management, which is crowd control and dealing with demonstrations,” John Maher, head of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) section at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, told journalists.
Maher said U.S. law-enforcement officials will teach their Armenian colleagues how to avoid unnecessary use of force and respect human rights during street protests and other public gatherings. He gave no details as to the length of the training course and the number of Armenian policemen expected to attend it.
Armenian security agencies and police in particular have a long track record of using disproportionate force against citizens exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly. Many in Armenia blame their heavy-handedness and perceived incompetence for the death of ten people in vicious street clashes that followed the disputed presidential election of February 2008.
Maher reserved judgment on the police actions on that day. “The real assessment that the U.S. government has of March 1  would be the description of those events contained in the State Department’s  human rights report,” he said. “But I think everybody recognizes that ten fatalities was a terrible thing.”
The State Department report released in February accused the Armenian authorities of committing “numerous human rights abuses” in the wake of the 2008 election. But it stopped short of explicitly condemning the use of lethal force against opposition protesters that barricaded themselves in central Yerevan on March 1, 2008.
The planned crowd control training will be part of a broader technical and material assistance provided to Armenian law-enforcement authorities by the United States. It has targeted a range of areas, including human and drug trafficking and money laundering.
As part of that aid, the U.S. Embassy has established, through the INL, a nationwide computer network for the Armenian police and has donated administrative and classroom equipment to the country’s Police Academy. It has also assisted the police’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit with computer equipment and a vehicle donated this year. Two other vehicles worth a total of about $70,000 were given to the police late last month to combat illegal migration.