Mashtots avenue in downtown Yerevan was covered with marching traffic police officers late Friday celebrating their liberties and chanting slogans "give police a chance," "pull over, now" among others.
Armenian police have been under severe social denial for the past few decades, but as more liberal moods begin to awake in newly independent Armenia, more police officers disband the veil of shyness and publicly exhibit their identity to the nation.
"I'm proud to be who I am and I don't care what people think. Public opinion does not decide my personal choices," says one of the marchers, captain Abgar Popikyan walking in vanguard of the parade. "At first I was humbled to reveal my identity to family and friends, but it's just not right to deny it. Yes, world, I'm a policeman and you have to accept me the way I am!," claims Popikyan.
Hundreds of traffic and patrol officers wearing shiny police uniform were approaching puzzled drivers and giving out roses and candies. Traffic was paralyzed on Mashtots and Tumanyan intersection for a few hours as officers, singing "We shall overcome" approached their ultimate destination near Northern Avenue where they united around a podium to declare police emancipation.
Chief of Traffic Police Pipinyan made the long-expected announcement at the culmination of the event: "My dear colleagues, my heart shivers as I see you gathered here… several generations of our officers have cherished the dream of this day, when we can proudly raise our head in Yerevan and say I am an Armenian traffic police officer and I am proud of what I am!" Pipinyan remained unashamed of dripping tears and continued: "I believe our kind has suffered the most from unhealthy criticism of cruel society.. I mean.. This is a day of big joy when we can say.. we are free! Fee at last.. free at last."
The parade was gloomed the next day as some conservative forces stepped in to denounce the emotional movement. One of chief Dashnaks Giro Manoyan slammed the parade in a press conference: "It is not natural for a man to be a police officer. Especially for Armenian men. I am surprised that the mayor's office sanctioned the march."
It later was clarified by the mayor that police actually are entitled to freedom of expression under current legislation. Mayor Sevoyan told our reporter Sergey Sargsyan in a private interview: "It's not my decision and the resentful conservatives should not blame me. We are now a part of the European council and the Europeans insist that we should allow for police officers to express their identity among others."
Incidentally, head of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Armenia (GLAA) Ashot Pavlikyan called the parade "disgusting" and "shameful" for a country like Armenia. "We are a proud nation and as much as we like European values, we should not go beyond limits… I mean, Police Pride Parade.. this is just disgraceful and unnatural. Why don't they just indulge in being police at home away from innocent eyes. There are kids watching them in the streets, for Chrissake…" said indignant activist.