Armenian law-enforcement authorities may implicate Zhirayr Sefilian, a radical opposition leader, in last month’s deadly attack on a police station in Yerevan that was carried out by armed members of his Founding Parliament organization.
The 31 gunmen seized the police facility in the city’s Erebuni district on July 17 almost one month after Sefilian was arrested for allegedly plotting an armed revolt against the Armenian government. Both Sefilian and his associates deny the accusations as politically motivated.
The gunmen mostly affiliated with Founding Parliament demanded Sefilian’s release and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation immediately after storming the Erebuni compound, killing one police officer and taking several others hostage.
A prominent Nagorno-Karabakh politician met with the gunmen’s leader, Varuzhan Avetisian, Sefilian and senior Armenian officials in the following days in a bid to end the hostage crisis. The armed group laid down its arms on July 31 the day after another policeman was killed in its standoff with security forces.
A criminal investigation into the armed attack is being conducted by the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body overseen by Armenian prosecutors. It emerged on Wednesday that the SIS has decided to merge the probe with two other criminal cases involving Sefilian.
One of those cases stems from Sefilian’s arrest on June 20 while the other relates to “mass disturbances” that were allegedly planned by Founding Parliament last year.
Sefilian and four other Founding Parliament figures, including Avetisian, were arrested in April 2015 and charged with planning to provoke riots in Yerevan during official ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. All five men were set free but not cleared of the charges a month later.
Founding Parliament admitted seeking to use the genocide centennial to try to topple the government. But it strongly denied planning to stage violent protests in Yerevan.
The fringe nationalist group and its opposition allies attracted tiny crowds when they held a series of peaceful anti-government rallies later in 2015.
Sefilian’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, criticized on Thursday the SIS’s decision to investigate his client’s alleged crimes and the Erebuni attack in a single criminal case. He said the “illogical” move may be a prelude to accusing Sefilian of complicity in the seizure of the police compound. Hayrapetian insisted that the Founding Parliament leader was not involved in the attack.
The SIS said last week that 44 persons have been formally charged in connection with the two-week Erebuni standoff. They include not only the arrested gunmen but also Founding Parliament members and supporters accused of aiding the armed group.