Armed members of a radical opposition group refused to surrender to Armenian security forces after releasing their hostages on Saturday, insisting that President Serzh Sarkisian must free their arrested leader and step down.
The two dozen or so gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan were allowed to speak in person with a large group of journalists as part of a deal struck with the authorities. The deal led to the release earlier in the day of four police officers that have been held hostage there for the past week.
One of the two leaders of the gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisian, said the authorities pledged to give the Armenian press permanent access to a “neutral zone” at the entrance to the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district.
The sprawling compound that housed a police regiment tasked with crowd control and street patrols was seized by them on July 17. The regiment’s deputy commander, Colonel Artur Vanoyan, was killed and several other policemen wounded in the assault.
Both Avetisian and the other leader of the armed group, Pavel Manukian, insisted that they will not give up themselves and are prepared for a possible attack by security forces deployed around the seized base in large numbers. Manukian claimed that the gunmen are also ready to seize other buildings.
The two men also stressed that their demands remain unchanged: Sarkisian’s resignation and the release from prison of Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of their Founding Parliament movement, and other “political prisoners.”
Armenia - Retired army General Vitaly Balasanian (C) is flanked by Varuzhan Avetisian (R) and another member of an armed group that seized a police station in Yerevan, 23Jul2016.
Vitaly Balasanian, a retired Nagorno-Karabakh army general who brokered the hostages’ release, ruled out the president’s resignation when he arrived at the scene to speak to the reporters.
Balasanian said Sefilian told him on Saturday morning that he is no longer demanding Sarkisian’s resignation and could ask his armed loyalists to surrender if the authorities meet a number of other demands. The Karabakh Armenian general refused to disclose Sefilian’s conditions.
Balasanian said he has also received assurances from President Sarkisian that the security forces will not attack the seized police premises for now. But he also stressed: “They must lay down their arms today or tomorrow.”