Zhirayr Sefilian, a jailed opposition leader, on Tuesday urged the Armenian authorities to negotiate with him an end to their continuing standoff with armed members of his Founding Parliament movement occupying a police station in Yerevan.
Sefilian appealed to the authorities the day after his lawyer, Ara Zakarian, said that he is ready to stop demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation “for the moment.”
“We have a clear political program of peacefully resolving the problem,” Sefilian said in a statement sent to RFE/RL’s Armenian’s service (Azatutyun.am) through Zakarian.
“It is evident that the delay in the launch of a negotiation process is leading to an escalation of the situation, which could result in more clashes, injuries and casualties,” he warned.
Vitaly Balasanian, a Nagorno-Karabakh politician who has mediated between the authorities and the Founding Parliament gunmen, said on Sunday that Sarkisian is ready to meet Sefilian if the gunmen holed up in the police station lay down their arms. Balasanian also claimed that Sefilian no longer backs the gunmen’s key demand: Sarkisian’s resignation.
Zakarian, the lawyer, clarified on Monday that his client told Balasanian in jail that “he is renouncing that demand for the moment but not in general.” “In a negotiation process the parties set conditions with the aim of eventually making mutual concessions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “So Sefilian would set certain conditions and if they were met he would drop that demand at that point.”
Sefilian was arrested on June 20 for allegedly cobbling together an armed group that planned to seize government buildings in Yerevan. The Lebanese-born radical oppositionist denied the government allegations as politically motivated.
The 30 or so gunmen affiliated with Founding Parliament demanded Sefilian’s release immediately after seizing the police station on July 17. They also demanded that Sarkisian free other “political prisoners” and step down.
Alek Yenigomshian, a senior Founding Parliament figure leading ongoing demonstrations in support of the gunmen, said on Tuesday that Sefilian wants to be allowed to meet the besieged “rebels” and then start talks with President Sarkisian. The talks would focus on “serious reforms” which Founding Parliament believes are badly needed in Armenia, Yenigomshian told reporters.
The authorities negotiated with the gunmen through Balasanian until they released their four remaining hostages, all of them police officers, on Saturday. Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) have since repeatedly urged the armed oppositionists to surrender. The NSS on Tuesday declined to comment on the possibility of renewed negotiations with them.
Addressing a fresh rally held by Founding Parliament later in the day, Yenigomshian said that the opposition group and its allies are ready to find unspecified “reasonable solutions” with the authorities. But he at the same time reaffirmed support for the gunmen’s demands.
“We must achieve the fulfillment of guys’ demands,” Yenigomshian told thousands of people that again rallied on a street near the seized police station in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district before marching to the city center.
Earlier in the day, the police warned the organizers to stop staging protests on the Erebuni street, saying that there is a “real danger” of fresh violence there that could have “unpredictable consequences.” “Or else, the Armenian police would have no choice but to stop the gathering in a manner defined by the law,” read a police statement.
However, the police refrained from using force when the protest leaders and their supporters defied the warning. The crowd visibly grew bigger as it marched through the city center, voicing support for the gunmen and chanting anti-government slogans.
Sefilian, 49, was arrested less than two weeks after announcing plans to set up a new group that will seek to topple the government “with the help of the people and the army.” In particular, he condemned Sarkisian’s alleged plans to ensure Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan as part of a compromise settlement of the Karabakh conflict favored by the United States, Russia and France.
In line with their hardline nationalist views, Sefilian and his associates are strongly opposed to Armenian withdrawal from any of the districts around Karabakh that have been controlled by the Karabakh Armenians since the early 1990s.