Larisa Paremuzyan

Armenia's Traffic Cops: Help or Hindrance?

GAI_18.07.09 Traffic cops are supposed to protect drivers and pedestrians from unwanted accidents on the highways and byways of the country. This is the theory, at any rate. When a driver sees an approaching cop car, one usually checks the car's speed and takes the necessary precautions. Sadly, another reality is that all too often in Armenia drivers are pulled over and forced to pay large cash fines to traffic cops for no other reason that law enforcement official claim that this or that law was violated, many times without any credible evidence. Drivers mostly cave in and pay the fines imposed merely in order to avoid unnecessary problems in the future. Yesterday, while driving from Yerevan to Alaverdi we came across several score of traffic cops plying the highway. A taxi driver named Sergei that we spoke to said that if you try to argue with the cops they’ll confiscate your driver's license." When we approached the village of Tzil Kar, we spotted several police cars lined alond the roadside. A number of hapless looking drivers were standing alongside while the cops were writing out tickets. I got the impression that today the police had made a point to target the area and pull over as many unsuspecting motorist as possible to earn some extra cash for the state budget and most likely spare pocket money for themselves as well. At around 1:00 pm, the traffic police pulled over the car of our neighbor Armen who was driving some relatives up to Alaverdi. Armen slowly pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road. A few seconds later a cop strolled up and in a low voice said that he had surpassed the 70 kilometer speed limit and requested his license. The two then walked to the police car. It turns out that the officer was about to stick him with a fine of 30,000 to 40,000 drams; practically Armen’s entire monthly salary. All of us in the car knew that we hadn't exceeded the speed limit because one of the passengers was car sick and asked that we drive slowly. In addition, a friend in another car had phoned ahead warning us of the approaching traffic cop. We asked ourselves how the cop knew that we were going faster than the allowed 70 kilometers. The most comical bit still awaited us. When I got out and starting taking photos of the cops they were startled and asked "what the heck are you playing at". I said that of course they had every right to fine the driver if warranted. All I asked was that they prove he violated the law. "Hey, you want to take pictures, go ahead. We don't have a problem with that it's your right. But you don't have a clue what happened. How fast was your driver going?" the cop said, visibly irritated. I replied that at most he was going 40-50 kilometers per hour. "Only in Armenia are cops treated like this," the officer complained and handed back Armen's drivers license. They then drove away. When we drove through the Shahumyan neighborhood of Alaverdi we spotted the infamous traffic warden "Karo" from Vanadzor in action writing out a ticket to a driver he had pulled over. When I started to film him he said nothing and simply lowered his head until he finished. He then got in his police car and he, along with his partner, drove away from their check-point. At that moment I knew that the traffic along the road actually became safe.