President Serzh Sarkisian is ready to meet the jailed opposition leader Zhirayr Sefilian if the armed member of his organization occupying a police station in Yerevan lay down their arms, a politician who has negotiated with them said on Sunday.
Vitaly Balasanian, a retired Nagorno-Karabakh army general, also insisted that Sefilian no longer supports the gunmen’s key demand -- Sarkisian’s resignation -- and has set other conditions that have been communicated to the president.
“[Sarkisian] has expressed readiness to invite Zhirayr Sefilian and explain to him the reality and prospects immediately after the guys lay down arms and surrender,” Balasanian said in a statement cited by the Armenpress news agency.
Sefilian, who leads the Founding Parliament radical opposition movement, was arrested on June 20 for allegedly cobbling together an armed group that planned to seize government buildings in Yerevan. He denied the government allegations as politically motivated.
Around two dozen armed men affiliated with Founding Parliament demanded Sefilian’s release immediately after seizing a police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district on July 17. They also demanded that Sarkisian free other “political prisoners” and step down.
The gunmen took several police officers hostage in the unprecedented armed attack that left another policeman dead. They released the four remaining hostages on Saturday as part of a deal with the Armenian authorities brokered by Balasanian. In return, they were allowed to talk to more than 60 journalists transported to the seized police premises.
Balasanian condemned the gunmen for carrying weapons while speaking to the journalists. “They engaged in a demonstration of weapons and militancy and then fired gunshots in the air during live broadcasts [provided by some of the reporters,]” he said. “I find this unacceptable.”
Balasanian went on to urge the gunmen to surrender to security forces “before it’s too late.” “For that purpose the authorities are ready to organize another contact with the media for you,” he said, appealing to them.
The two leaders of the gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisian and Pavel Manukian, said on Saturday that they have no intention to give up themselves. They also insisted on Sarkisian’s resignation.
A senior Founding Parliament representative dismissed Balasanian’s statement on Sunday evening when the opposition group again rallied supporters on a Yerevan street leading to the Erebuni police station surrounded by security forces. Addressing the crowd, Alek Yenigomsian said the gunmen have no plans to surrender.