The anti-government gunmen holed up in a police station in Yerevan released on Saturday all four police officers held hostage by them after negotiations held with the Armenian government through a mediator.
The mediator, Vitaly Balasanian, announced the impending release of the hostages in comments to the Armenian TV station Shant aired in the morning.
Two rank-and-file policemen were the first to regain their freedom shortly afterwards. The two other, high-ranking officers, Vartan Yeghiazarian and and Valeri Osipinian, were set free in the following hours.
Balasanian, who is a retired Nagorno-Karabakh army general, said it was also agreed that in return for the hostages’ release, Armenian security forces will allow the gunmen’s leaders to talk to journalists at a “neutral zone” around the seized police compound. The journalists will work there “around-the-clock,” he added without elaborating.
Late in the afternoon, some 40 reporters, including an RFE/RL correspondent and cameraman, were transported there in three police minibuses. None of them was allowed to provide a live broadcast the gunmen’s news conference that was apparently continuing as of 5 p.m. local time.
The agreement on the hostages’ release is understood to have been reached at a secret meeting between the two leaders of the armed group and the director of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), Georgi Kutoyan. The meeting was mediated by Balasanian.
“The negotiation process is continuing,” NSS spokesman Samson Galtsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) shortly after the two lower-ranking hostages were freed.
“I can’t give any other information at this point in the interests of the negotiation process,” said Galtsian.
Balasanian did not specify whether the authorities are ready to meet the hostage-takers’ key demands: the release from prison of the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament opposition group, Zhirayr Sefilian, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Sarkisian on Friday urged the armed oppositionists to lay down their arms and give up themselves, saying that they cannot effect any political change in Armenia through violence.