The actions of the gunmen who seized a police station in Yerevan and held it for two weeks in a deadly standoff with security forces last month amounted to terrorism, according to Armenian Parliament Speaker Galust Sahakian.
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a pan-Armenian youth camp, Baze-2016, in Tsaghkadzor on Thursday, Sahakian said: “If someone takes up arms and kills their fellow citizens, it is terrorism.”
Armenian authorities have mostly avoided giving the legal definition of “terrorism” to the actions of the Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) group, whose members were advancing political demands to the government during the July 17-31 standoff with security forces.
Three police officers were killed and several others were wounded during the dramatic events that included hostage-taking as several police officers and ambulance workers were for days held by the gunmen inside the seized building.
The National Security Service (NSS) used the term “terrorism” in its earliest statement on the attack, drawing a chorus of criticism and angry reactions from hundreds of activists gathering for daily protests in support of the gunmen as well as many more commenting on the events in social media.
The NSS avoided calling the Sasna Tsrer members “terrorists” throughout the crisis, repeating the term only in its statement on the surrender of the group on July 31.
None of the several dozen arrested members of the group, however, have been charged with committing a terrorist act so far. Most of them are charged with seizure of state buildings, hostage taking or illegal arms possession.
While being holed up inside the police compound, Sasna Tsrer demanded the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of the fringe opposition Founding Parliament movement, as well as President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. It also urged Armenians to take to the streets and voice support for their “rebellion.”
The Armenian authorities rejected those demands.
During pro-gunmen demonstrations representatives of hardline opposition forces also demanded that the Armenian authorities revise their purportedly conciliatory stance in the internationally mediated talks with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh after the April clashes in the disputed region. Members of the armed group inside the seized police compound also addressed the “dangers” of possible concessions to Azerbaijan in the talks.
Talking to the media, Parliament Speaker Sahakian downplayed the speculation, insisting that Nagorno-Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan. At the same time, he rejected the armed method of highlighting political issues.
“I don’t think that people waited for some armed men to come and commit murders so that they can make something out,” Sahakian said.