The Armenian authorities on Sunday warned gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan to surrender themselves and rejected their demands to free the leader of their radical opposition group arrested last month.
General Hunan Poghosian, the first deputy chief of the Armenian police, made clear at the same time that security forces will continue to negotiate for now with the members of Zhirayr Sefilian’s Founding Parliament movement holding several police officers hostage.
“Negotiations are underway with them right now,” Poghosian told reporters near the police building controlled by the gunmen. “The police and other law-enforcement bodies are continuing to urge them to back away from their criminal plans and to surrender themselves to the authorities.”
Poghosian stopped short of setting any deadlines for their surrender. “We will continue to negotiate as long as we have hopes to resolve this situation through negotiations,” he said.
“They have made only one demand: to free Zhirayr Sefilian,” added the police general. Asked whether the authorities could meet it, he said: “Of course not.”
The attackers also demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation after they stormed the headquarters of an Armenian police unit tasked with protecting government buildings and patrolling streets.
Armenia - Armed police officers are seen outside a Yerevan police building seized by anti-government gunmen, 17Jul2016.
The gunmen called on Armenians to join in their “rebellion.” Very few people appeared to have taken to the streets after the appeal, however. Dozens of Founding Parliament members across Armenia were reportedly rounded up by the police in the following hours.
Poghosian confirmed that one police officer was killed and several others wounded during the unprecedented armed attack. He identified the victim as Colonel Artur Vanoyan. Another colonel is among the wounded officers, he said.
“The entire law-enforcement system … will take necessary preventive and operational measures if our appeals go unheeded,” warned Poghosian. “We are capable of neutralizing them. You can’t deal with murderers otherwise.”
Poghosian again spoke to journalists at the scene later in the day, at 6:30 p.m. local time. He said that anti-terrorism forces deployed around the seized police compound are at the ready but have not yet received an order to attack it because the negotiations are going on.
“We just don’t want more bloodshed and are again urging them to surrender to the authorities,” added Poghosian.
He denied unconfirmed reports that Sefilian is also involved in the talks with the gunmen.
One of the leaders of the armed group, Varuzhan Avetisian, effectively denied, however, any negotiations with the authorities. “Only Zhirayr Sefilian can negotiate on behalf of us,” he told the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. “We ourselves are not negotiating.”
Avetisian, who is a senior member of Founding Parliament, also said that the attackers’ main demand is President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the formation of a “government of popular trust.”