Two members of an ambulance crew who were taken hostage by opposition gunmen in Yerevan in July received awards from Armenia’s government and parliament over the weekend.
Salvador Khechoyan, an ambulance doctor, and Malina Margarian, a nurse, were honored during an official event that marked the 25th anniversary of the country’s post-Soviet healthcare system. They were awarded for what officials described as their “selfless work” during the Armenian authorities’ two-week standoff with three dozen armed members of a radical opposition group.
The gunmen shot several police officers when they stormed a police compound in Yerevan on July 17 to demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of their jailed leader, Zhirayr Sefilian. Two of those policemen succumbed to their wounds.
Khechoyan, Margarian as well as another doctor and a paramedic went into the compound on July 27 to help some of the armed oppositionists wounded by security forces besieging them. Only one of them was allowed to leave the premises several hours later.
The gunmen’s leader, Varuzhan Avetisian, admitted on July 29 that the three medics are being held there against their will. “If there are no doctors here, they will shoot us one by one,” Avetisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone.
All of the medics were set free by the morning of July 31. The remaining gunmen holed up in the police facility surrendered to security forces later in the day.
The hostage taking was condemned not only by the Armenian government but also the United States and the European Union. “We call for the immediate, safe, and unconditional release of medical personnel held captive since Wednesday [July 27,]” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said on July 29.
A spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, similarly demanded the “immediate release of the medical staff that is being held hostage.”
Khechoyan was asked by reporters after Saturday’s ceremony whether he thinks that he and his colleagues were indeed held hostage. “We were subjected to confinement there,” he said. “Let lawyers decide how to define that.”
The doctor also said he considers his award an act of gratitude towards Yerevan’s “entire ambulance service” that treated both law-enforcement officers and gunmen during the standoff. “There were ambulance people whose work was not visible but it was done on a daily basis, right there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they were in captivity.”