More than a thousand people blocked a major street in central Yerevan late on Saturday in continuing demonstrations held in support of an armed opposition group demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The crowd unblocked Marshal Bagramian Avenue leading to the presidential palace after a police warning issued two hours later. Only up to 200 protesters remained there by that time.
The protest took place despite the arrests of several more opposition and public figures that have organized daily demonstrations since gunmen affiliated with Founding Parliament, a fringe opposition movement, seized a police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district on July 17.
At least four of them were taken into custody after leading supporters the previous night to the Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the compound. Riot police used force against the protesters after they refused to disperse. More than 60 people were injured in the crackdown condemned by mainstream opposition parties and human rights groups.
The police also detained at least 165 people in Sari Tagh and on Khorenatsi Street leading to the scene of the standoff between security forces and the gunmen. Twenty-three of them were formally placed under arrest on Saturday on suspicion of organizing “mass disturbances” just a few hundred meters from the Erebuni police premises. The others were apparently set free.
The arrested persons included two senior members of the opposition Zharangutyun party, Armen Martirosian and Davit Sanasarian, the former presidential candidate Andrias Ghukasian and a well-known Armenian pop musician, Yeghishe Petrosian.
Another protest leader, Alek Yenigomshian, was arrested and charged with aiding the gunmen earlier this week. Yenigomshian is a leading member of Founding Parliament.
Martirosian’s lawyer, Givi Hovannisian, said his client considers his arrest an act of “political persecution.” He insisted that neither Martirosian nor the other oppositionists provoked the Sari Tagh violence.
“Armen Martirosian on the contrary tried to prevent the clashes,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sanasarian was detained at a Yerevan hospital where he was taken early on Saturday to receive treatment for injuries suffered during the police assault. He fainted while being dragged away several plainclothes officers.
Saturday’s demonstrations was led by other, less famous individuals. They refrained from staging another march to Sari Tagh or the Erebuni street section.
Instead, the protesters marched through the city center before starting a sit-in on Marshal Bagramian Avenue. Several rows of riot police were deployed nearby to prevent them from advancing towards the presidential palace.
At one point, a middle-aged man tried to set himself on fire in a show of solidarity with the gunmen. Although other protesters quickly put out the flames, he appeared to have suffered serious burns and was hospitalized.
The remaining protesters agreed to unblock the street after a senior police officer told them that the gathering is illegal and can be forcibly dispersed.