Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister who recently set up an opposition party, on Friday pointedly declined to criticize anti-government gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan and said President Serzh Sarkisian should offer them “political” concessions.
“There is no question of justifying [their actions,]” Oskanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian “But I can’t condemn or criticize.”
“I stand with those guys. That means I stand with the people,” he said, referring to the armed members of the radical opposition movement Founding Parliament that killed one police officer and took four others hostage on July 17.
Oskanian claimed that the two dozen gunmen never intended to kill any policemen when they stormed the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district. “That death happened by accident,” he said.
Oskanian said that the Armenian government is wrong to keep the hostage crisis only “on the legal plane” and needs to come up instead with a “political solution” involving concessions to the gunmen. “As soon as the matter is brought on to the political plane, you have to ensure that there are no winners or losers and that both sides have a dignified way out,” he said.
The hostage-takers are demanding the Founding Parliament leader Zhirayr Sefilian’s release from prison and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Oskanian refused to specify whether the government should meet those demands. He suggested only that the hostage crisis could be ended through the launch of unspecified “radical changes” in Armenia.
Sarkisian made clear earlier in the day that he will not meet the hostage-takers’ demands. He also urged them to surrender, saying that nobody must seek to effect political change through violence.
Oskanian seemed to rationalize Founding Parliament’s recourse to violence, however, pointing to chronic electoral fraud and other government abuses in Armenia. “When all political paths are closed, political forces, individuals and civil society members have no choice but to resort to such actions,” he said.
Former President Robert Kocharian’s government, of which Oskanian was a key member, was also accused by its political opponents of rigging elections, suppressing dissent and benefiting from corruption.
Ten people were killed and many others wounded in Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008 after Kocharian ordered security forces to crack down on thousands of opposition supporters demonstrating against the alleged falsification of a presidential election. Oskanian effectively defended the use of deadly force at the time.
Oskanian and several other politicians widely seen as Kocharian supporters held last month the founding congress of their party called Hamakhmbum (Consolidation). They have repeatedly said that Kocharian, who is very critical of the current Armenian government, is not behind the party.