Nikol Pashinian, a prominent Armenian opposition parliamentarian, demanded that law-enforcement authorities allow him to meet the jailed leader of a radical opposition group whose armed members continued to occupy a police building in Yerevan early on Monday.
Pashinian said he tried to visit Zhirayr Sefilian in prison hours after gunmen affiliated with the latter’s Founding Parliament movement seized the building early on Sunday, killing one police officer and taking several others hostage. He said he believes a meeting with Sefilian could help to end the continuing hostage crisis.
“I was thinking about possible ways out of this deadlock,” Pashinian explained to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “That is why I decided to meet with Zhirayr Sefilian. But the penitentiary agency [of the Armenian Justice Ministry] illegally refused to let me meet him.”
Pashinian said that he will keep trying to receive permission to visit a Yerevan prison where Sefilian is being kept pending trial on charges of illegal arms possession. “We must do everything to prevent further bloodshed because the situation is in deadlock and can get out of hand at any moment,” he said.
Policemen block a street after a group of armed men seized a police station in Yerevan, July 17, 2016.
Pashinian was allowed by security forces to visit the police compound in the city’s Erebuni district shortly after it was seized by Sefilian’s armed associates. The gunmen allowed him to film inside the compound with his mobile phone.
The 13-minute footage posted by Pashinian on the Internet shows gun-toting members of Founding Parliament demanding Sefilian’s release and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. They are also shown talking to two of at least six police hostages held by them: deputy chiefs of the national police and Yerevan’s police department.
“They told me that they are not going to surrender and will put up resistance if the police attack them,” said Pashinian.
In separate statements issued on Sunday evening, Pashinian’s Civic Contract and other mainstream opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament urged the authorities not to end the hostage crisis by force and continue to seek a negotiated solution. One of them, Prosperous Armenia, called for a “dialogue” between the authorities and the hostage takers.
Pavel Manukian, a Founding Parliament activist leading the gunmen, told Armlur.am that the authorities allowed Sefilian to talk to him by phone. “Zhirayr Sefilian was completely unaware of what happened [at the Erebuni police building,]” Manukian said. “I informed him about the situation but he was in the dark. That is why he said, ‘You decide [what to do next.]”
“We’re going to fight till the end,” added Manukian.
Armenia - Police detain an opposition supporter in Yerevan, 17Jul2016.
The police rounded up and detained dozens of people, among them Founding Parliament members or supporters, after the gunmen urged Armenians to join their “rebellion.” Many of them were taken to the Yerevan headquarters of Armenian interior troops on Sunday night. About 50 detainees were set free shortly after midnight.
On Sunday afternoon, an RFE/RL correspondent saw a police officer telling a group of women in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to get in a police van. “We want to check your identity,” said the officer.
The women refused. “Give me a written invitation,” said one of them.
The police made dozens of arrests at the square in the evening. Among those taken into custody were three well-known opposition figures sympathetic to Founding Parliament. It was not clear whether they planned to hold a rally there.
At least two dozen other people were detained in Gyumri and Vanadzor. They included Levon Barseghian, a prominent Gyumri-based civic activist. Barseghian was freed several hours after the police stopped and searched his car on a highway outside the city.