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Jailed Armenian Gunman Bids To Run For Village Mayor


Armenia -- Arayik Khandoyan inside the occupied police station in Yerevan. July, 2016

Armenia -- Arayik Khandoyan inside the occupied police station in Yerevan. July, 2016

An arrested member of an armed group that seized and held a police station in Yerevan for two weeks in a deadly standoff with security forces last month has filed his nomination to run for mayor in his home village in elections scheduled for next month.

Arayik Khandoyan, a prominent veteran of the 1992-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh also known to the public as “Lone Wolf”, was wounded, among other gunmen, in an apparent shootout with police during the siege, but refused to be hospitalized until the surrender of the Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) group to the National Security Service on July 31.

Three police officers were killed and several others were wounded during the dramatic events that unfolded against the backdrop of pro-gunmen protests near the standoff venue attended by hundreds of activists and ordinary citizens.

Sasna Tsrer, a group loyal to a fringe opposition movement, Founding Parliament, presented political demands to Armenia’s leadership, including the release of their imprisoned leader Zhirayr Sefilian and other oppositionists it viewed as political prisoners. The group also sought the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and reconsideration of a purportedly conciliatory position of the current administration in negotiations on the settlement of a protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The gunmen held several police officers and ambulance workers hostage for days before letting them go. Khandoyan, who claimed they treated the people they held inside the police compound with respect and did not consider them hostages, is currently charged with hostage-taking and illegal arms possession.

The 45-year-old war veteran turned activist seeks nomination as a candidate for mayor in the village of Tsaghkahovit in Armenia’s western Aragatsotn province, where his extended family lives today. He reportedly had his authorized representative submit a set of necessary papers to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by 6 pm Friday, which was the deadline for would-be candidates in the elections scheduled for September 18.

Earlier, Khandoyan claimed that the prison administration and the Special Investigation Service had obstructed his nomination by not providing relevant documents needed for a proxy’s authorization.

Still before Khandoyan’s papers arrived at the CEC, the parliamentary opposition Prosperous Armenia Party said its nominee for the elections in Tsaghkahovit would withdraw should Khandoyan present a mayoral bid.

The incumbent mayor of the village, Gegham Khachatrian, who will seek reelection next month, is a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.

Armenia’s law allows people facing criminal charges, including those in pretrial detention, to participate in elections as candidates as long as they are not convicted.

Opposition member Nikol Pashinian exercised this right when he unsuccessfully contested a parliamentary by-election in 2010 while being in pretrial detention.

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