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Opposition Party Defends ‘Silence’ During Police Station Standoff


Armenia - Aram Manukian of the opposition Armenian National Congress at a news conference in Yerevan, 15Feb2012.

Armenia - Aram Manukian of the opposition Armenian National Congress at a news conference in Yerevan, 15Feb2012.

The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) party kept low profile during a two-week standoff between security forces and radical opposition gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan in a July 17 attack to preclude further escalation and developments that would threaten the nation’s statehood, the party’s senior member told media on Tuesday.

Thousands of demonstrators hailed the political demands advanced to the authorities by three dozen members of an armed group, Sasna Tsrer, who remained holed up inside the Erebuni district police headquarters while being besieged by security forces.

The gunmen surrendered on July 31, putting an end to a drama in which three police officers were killed and several others were wounded. About a dozen gunmen were also wounded during apparent skirmishes with security forces during the standoff. A number of police officers and medical workers were taken hostage and held for days by the gunmen during the crisis.

Among the demands made by Sasna Tsrer were also the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and the formation of a government of national accord until the election of new authorities in preterm votes.

The HAK and other opposition parties in Armenia have also sought a government change in Armenia in recent years, presenting similar demands.

But the HAK’s deputy chairman Aram Manukian stressed that the party does not accept violent methods of achieving political changes. This, the lawmaker said, could entail serious dangers for the country and lead to its loss of statehood or a civil war.

“One cannot do a thing that can lead to the destruction of whatever is left. And our silence was aimed at preventing a further escalation of the situation. Violence, no matter who it is used by, is not a method for a regime change that we espouse. By using violence you legitimize the use of this method also in the future,” Manukian said.

The HAK and most other parliamentary parties were conspicuously absent from the processes, including street rallies, taking place in Yerevan during the days of the crisis. Five days into the tense standoff HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, however, issued an appeal to Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of the hardline opposition group, to help end the crisis peacefully, implying a surrender of the gunmen.

Ter-Petrosian argued that the unprecedented hostage crisis was only aggravating Armenia’s grave national security challenges emanating from the recent escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

At today’s press conference Manukian also made the case, saying that Armenia was just as vulnerable to security risks as Ukraine or Syria which have lost territories and have been engulfed in wars because of what he described as reckless actions of some politicians. He stressed that politicians should be responsible in what they do.

At the same time, Manukian advocated a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which was also used by Sasna Tsrer and their supporters as an argument against the current administration that they accuse of assuming a purportedly conciliatory position in internationally mediated negotiations with Azerbaijan.

Manukian dismissed what he described as pseudo-patriotism that takes the form of rejecting any concessions as part of a compromise. “The slogan of ‘no inch of land’ means pulling out of negotiations. Please, tell me how you can negotiate if you don’t speak about a compromise? Speaking about a compromise is natural as negotiations imply a compromise,” he said.

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