Armenian Red Berets Protect College Students?

This morning as I drove past the State Economics Institute on Nalbandyan Street in Yerevan I saw two Red Berets standing on the corner in front of the entrance. Today is back to school day across Armenia and students were flocking in front of their college buildings waiting for class to start while smoking slim cigarettes and playing with cell phones, as they do every day.

I’ve heard that oligarchs, big shots, and wannabes send their sons to the institute, which explains why there are so many fancy European cars parked in the area. The thing I did not understand was the presence of the armed military guards.Why do those privileged kids need such protection?

The Red Beret division of the Armenian military is supposedly an elite corp. There are Blue Beret soldiers as well, although I don’t understand what the difference is. You can visibly see Red Berets roaming the perimeter of the Opera House every evening, and they travel using in pairs or packs of four. They walk around at a snail’s pace while staring at males suspiciously. Once in a while you see them communicating on walkie-talkies or cell phones. Most of these guys are noticeably overweight, and I can’t imagine any of them running very fast (although I’m sure their blows can inflict serious damage).

You would think that the Defense Ministry had better things to do than to place military details at areas where the businesses of oligarchs are located. After all, it’s not the oligarchs themselves who visit their own establishments, and even if they do, they have their own armed bodyguards with them, so the military presence seems redundant. Besides, Yerevan has a police force to deal with fights that arbitrarily break out between young males, so it seems to me that the army should not be involved in public shoving matches. I can see them being needed when diplomats visit the area — when President Dimitry Medvedev was here last week he went to a cafe somewhere with President Sarkisian, so obviously maximum security was needed at that time. But what threat do middle-aged couples pose strolling around with their kids?

I really don’t know what to think about it any more as I’ve become used to feeling the presence of Red Berets roaming the streets of stoic downtown Yerevan. I used to be intimidated, even disgusted to see them, but now I walk right by them without giving second thought. Nevertheless, it was surreal to see them on campus today, and I can’t help but wonder what students who aren’t being protected think.