Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Wednesday lavished praise on gunmen that launched a deadly attack on a police compound in Yerevan, saying that they are “counterterrorists” fighting for justice.
Hovannisian reaffirmed his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s strong support for the armed members of a more radical opposition group that seized the compound on July 17 and surrendered to security forces two weeks later.
“No matter how much [the authorities] mock me and us, [the gunmen] are really counterterrorists,” he told a news conference. “They are anti-terror soldiers who responded to government terror with few resources and minimal casualties.”
The U.S.-born politician, who was the main opposition candidate in Armenia’s last presidential election, thus seemed to downplay the killing of two police officers during the two-week standoff. He added, though: “We regret the deaths of the two police officers.”
None of the 30 or so gunmen was killed by security forces.
The gunmen demanded the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation immediately after capturing the police facility in Yerevan’s Erebuni district. Zharangutyun, which is represented in the Armenian parliament, was quick to back their demands.
Three senior members of Zharangutyun -- Armen Martirosian, Hovsep Khurshudian and Davit Sanasarian -- were among oppositionfigures that organized rallies in support of the armed group calling itself “Sasna Tsrer” (Daredevils o Sasun). They were arrested and charged with inciting “mass disturbances” after one such rally was broken by riot police on Friday.
Hovannisian demanded the immediate release of Martirosian, Khurshudian and Sanasarian as well as other “political prisoners.” He also announced that Zharangutyun will hold later this month nationwide rallies to voice support for the gunmen and demand sweeping political reforms in Armenia.
The Zharangutyun leader said the authorities’ failure to implement such reforms would result in more armed attacks. “If issues cannot be solved through normal political processes, new Sasna Tsrer will be born,” he said.
Late last year, Zharangutyun teamed up with Sefilian’s Founding Parliament in a bid to force Sarkisian to resign with a series of anti-government rallies in Yerevan. The campaign ended in failure due to poor attendance of those rallies.
Hovannisian pulled much bigger crowds in the wake of the 2013 presidential election which he believes was rigged by the Sarkisian government. His party has since been seriously weakened by internal disagreements.