Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian on Thursday hit out at armed opposition members that seized a police compound in Yerevan, saying that they were ready to cut compromise deals with President Serzh Sarkisian during their two-week standoff with security forces.
The gunmen demanded Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament fringe group, after storming the compound on July 17. The standoff, which left two police officers dead, ended in their surrender to law-enforcement authorities on July 31.
Pashinian, who leads a mainstream opposition party called Civil Contract, said that both Sefilian and his armed loyalists stopped insisting on regime change as the standoff dragged on.
“It turned out that the agenda has changed and the people who set that agenda are backing away from that demand little by little or at once,” he said. “We now have facts proving that.”
Pashinian tried to prevent more bloodshed in and around the compound immediately after the armed attack. He met with senior law-enforcement officials and was allowed to visit the gunmen and Sefilian.
On July 22, the 41-year-old lawmaker went further, urging more Armenians to take to the streets and demand Sarkisian’s resignation. He said that Civil Contract will try to expand the protests into other parts of Armenia.
Varuzhan Avetisian, the gunmen’s leader, denounced Pashinian’s attempts to lead the protests the following day, however. Avetisian accused Pashinian of using the crisis to further his own political agenda. A furious Pashinian rejected the accusations later, saying that he will no longer address rallies held in support of the armed oppositionists.
“We left the podium because it was clear at that point that the agenda is changing and that Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation does not top it, to say the least, or is not on the agenda at all,” Pashinian said on Thursday in a live Facebook broadcast.
On July 26, Sefilian offered to negotiate with the authorities a peaceful end to the standoff. His lawyer, Ara Zakharian, said Founding Parliament is ready to stop demanding Sarkisian’s resignation “for the moment” in exchange for government concessions.
Pashinian criticized that “tactical mistake.” He claimed that Founding Parliament urged Armenians to take to the streets and fight for regime change while holding “secret negotiations” with the president.