Armenia law-enforcement authorities released from custody on Monday one of the organizers of daily demonstrations held in support of opposition gunmen that seized a police compound in Yerevan on July 17.
Alek Yenikomshian, a leading member of Founding Parliament, was arrested on July 27 and subsequently charged with aiding the gunmen affiliated with his radical opposition movement.
Yenigomshian was the main speaker at virtually daily rallies held at a section of Khorenatsi Street close to the police compound in the city’s southern Erebuni district.
Several other protest leaders, including three senior members of the opposition Zharangutyun party, were arrested after riot police broke up on July 29 a demonstration organized by them in another Yerevan neighborhood adjacent to the besieged compound. They were charged with inciting “mass disturbances” there.
An Armenian prosecutor ordered Yenikomshian’s release pending investigation just over a week after the remaining gunmen holed up in the police facility surrendered to law-enforcement authorities. But he did not drop the accusations levelled against the hardline oppositionist.
Yenikomshian dismissed the charges as “totally baseless” when he spoke to reporters shortly after his release. He said he specifically stands accused of maintaining contacts with the gunmen during the standoff, informing them by phone about movements of security forces and inciting protesters to break through a police cordon and join the armed group demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The disabled activist argued that he could not have assisted the gunmen not least because of his blindness.
The demonstrations in support of the gunmen lost momentum after Yenikomshian and most of the other organizers were taken into custody on what they and their supporters consider politically motivated charges.
Yenikomshian predicted that the protests will resume with renewed vigor soon. The fact that thousands of people attended the July rallies shows that Armenians “hate this regime,” he claimed. “This situation cannot last for months,” he said.
Speaking the day after the gunmen’s surrender, Sarkisian said that further attempts to effect political change in Armenia by violent means would also fail. He accused Founding Parliament of trying to “import” militant extremism from the Middle East to Armenia.
“Yerevan is not Beirut or Aleppo,” warned the Armenian president.
Both Yenikomshian and Founding Parliament’s jailed top leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, are ethnic Armenians born and raised in Lebanon. Sefilian reportedly fought in an Armenian self-defense militia in Beirut during the Lebanese civil, while Yenikomshian is a former member of ASALA, a militant group that assassinated Turkish diplomats in the 1970s and 1980s.