motorist Tigran Aloyan won a court case and had
his driver's license returned, a State Traffic
Inspection tradition - to confiscate a license
for any driving violation - was broken.
Before last September, traffic police could confiscate
a driver's license at will, even illegally, citing
any of 43 types of violations. But since Aloyan's
trial, police are obeying the law which stipulates
only seven infractions by which a driver's license
may be taken.
A policeman stopped Aloyan near the Opera House
and charged him with a violation for having curtains
in his back window.
It is customary, though illegal, that police
throughout Armenia expect motorists to pay bribes
to be let go.
"He realized that I wasn't going to pay
him and he wrote a penalty ticket and then he
confiscated my license," Aloyan says. "I
said 'Why are you taking my license. If you don't
give it back I'll take it back by means of the
The policeman assured Aloyan that no such case
had ever gone to court in Armenia.
But through the help of the "Achilles"
Union, a Non-Governmental Organization, Aloyan
won his case last July, as the court found that
his license had been illegally taken, and the
Traffic Inspection Department of the Ministry
of Internal Affairs was ordered to return the
The Union, founded two years ago to protect drivers'
rights, has won four such cases and has established
a precedent in Armenia by placing inspectors in
the role of defendant.
"Drivers got used to paying a bribe for
taking a license back," says deputy head
of "Achilles" Vladimir Ghazaryan. "When
an inspector sees that a driver is arguing and
is educated then he won't stop him again. And
now after those trials when an inspector sees
that a driver protests the more so he won't stop
him again, as he doesn't want to go to court and
stand there perplexed as he knows neither law
nor something else."
Having a license confiscated creates problems
most drivers will pay to avoid.
To retrieve a license, a driver must go to the
Department of State Traffic Inspection of Yerevan
Police, located on the edge of the city. There,
together with approximately 200 other drivers
he must attend a session that lasts two hours
after which he is charged with a fine, usually
10,000 drams (about $17).
Then the driver must go to another office to
pay the fine, then return with a receipt showing
that he has paid.
Most drivers simply prefer to avoid the hassle
by discretely slipping about 1,000 drams to the
inspector at the stop.
am a lawyer and principally do not bribe,"
Aloyan says. "I stand for hours and argue
with an inspector, but do not give money. But
I can't tell everybody not to give money, especially,
if transport is the driver's way of earning a
living. For example, for me it's okay not to drive
for two months. Someone else cannot do that, and
so if he or she doesn't give money then he or
she will always have problems with STI."
If it is rare to find someone who doesn't pay
the bribe, it is impossible to find an inspector
who doesn't make his living off bribes.
According to official data, there are about 130,000
traffic violations per year in Armenia.
"Achilles" estimates that each inspector
registers about 0.7 tickets per day. However,
inspectors are stopping motorists every minute
of every day, for the purpose of extorting money.
One official from the STI, who wanted to stay
anonymous, said that inspectors stand in the streets
for hours for a salary of about $35 a month (only
about $25 until this year). Consequently, they
cannot live without accepting bribes.
"I cannot tell whether there are people
who take money or not, but I can say that none
of the inspectors has a right to," says head
of the Republican Police Propaganda Department,
lieutenant colonel Eduard Kostandyan. "If
we have the whole legislative portfolio and technical
provision, then it will be difficult to circumvent
the laws. Last year the new government established
traffic rules (up to now the Soviet rules were
in force). But five to six legal acts and laws
haven't been passed yet."
According to the survey made by "Achilles"
(financed by Eurasia Foundation), 60 percent of
drivers find that inspectors make use of the valid
order. The organization proposed amendments to
the laws consisting of 20 points that can lower
the possibility of bribing. Particularly, the
first point suggests empowering only the judge
with the right to confiscate someone's driving
"The former way of things and flaws in the
legislation are the reason for inspectors to take
money and give it to higher instances," says
Ghazaryan. "First, the legislative framework
has to be improved. Second, inspectors' salary
should be increased to the amount at which they
will have no need to accept bribes. Third, the
State Traffic Inspections should be technically
re-equipped. For example, there should be special
equipment to register whether the car has passed
under the red light or not. And not like an inspector
says you have passed under the red light and that's
all. The top layer shouldn't be so rotten and
take money from the bottom - inspectors. They
do not implement these changes, as high ranking
officials have interest in that."
Last year 22 inspectors were discharged, 29 were
demoted, and 136 got disciplinary punishment for
violations of their positions. Nineteen percent
of the traffic inspection's staff got punishments
of different levels. Annually, about 30 percent
receive some form of reprimand.
"We haven't resigned ourselves to bribery,
there is a serious campaign running," says
lieutenant-colonel Zhora Barsamyan, Head of the
Staff Analytical Department of the State Traffic
Inspection. "But it is not being abolished
basically, because one should abolish the reasons
first. There are so many authorities a law has
to go through to be adopted, the process lasts
several years. And there is no money in the budget
for technical re-equipment and increase of the
"Achilles" destroyed one more tradition
- the requirement to have a notary-registered
license for driving some other person's car.
another "Achilles" case, the Nork Marash
Court of First Instance ruled that STI was wrong
to take a driver's license and charge a 5,000
dram fine. The Civil Code, the court ruled, does
not require a notary signature in all cases.
Since September inspectors have been accepting
letters of attorney without notary certification.
Before that drivers were waiting in long lines
and paying 20,000 drams to certify letters of
attorney by the notary. "Achilles" has
established "Ekotaks" Ltd. which makes
letters of attorney for the drivers for 1,500
drams. Three other companies also have started
Barsamyan maintains that there are two different
laws - one requiring a notarized copy and another
"We are not against 'Achilles' pointing
to our shortcomings, but they intentionally discredit
us, which I don't think is correct," Barsamyan
Last August "Achilles" started direct
discussions with the governing body of the STI
(before that one had to apply to the PR Department
of the State Police in written form to have an
interview with an official or to introduce a proposal,
and only then he or she could get a permission
for the meeting. At present this order is valid
for journalists and other NGOs.)
The organization in cooperation with STI held
a competition and gave an award for "Best
Driver". However STI refused to hold a competition
for defining the "Best Inspector" as
suggested by "Achilles".