Armed members of an Armenian fringe opposition group broke the law when they seized a police station in Yerevan last summer, a leader of the opposition Yelk alliance insisted over the weekend.
Edmon Marukian pointedly declined to describe as political prisoners the gunmen who were arrested following a two-week standoff with security forces, which left three Armenian police officers dead.
The gunmen stormed the police compound in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district and took several police officers hostage on July 17, 2016. They demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement.
The authorities rejected those demands before forcing the armed group to lay down its weapons and surrender. The group’s most important members went on trial last week, facing a range of serious criminal charges. Two of them also stand accused of murdering the policemen. All of the defendants reject the accusations as politically motivated.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Marukian said he cannot refer to them as political prisoners because their actions involved an “illegal arms circulation” and resulted in casualties. “If I, for example, pick a gun and walk to RFE/RL for an interview but get arrested on the street, could we claim that Edmon Marukian is a political prisoner?” he said.
Accordingly, the U.S.-educated lawyer asserted that the attack on the Erebuni police facility had “elements of a crime.” “If we say that there was no such thing, that they did nothing wrong … that would mean [going to] the other extreme,” he said. “If people armed with assault rifles seize a [police] regiment, can I really say that it’s OK and there are no elements of crime in their actions?”
Marukian's Yelk finished third in Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections. Nikol Pashinian, another leader of the bloc formed in December, criticized the gunmen during the Erebuni standoff.
The gunmen, who referred to themselves as Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sasun), won the backing of other prominent opposition figures, notably former Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian as well as Zaruhi Postanjian.
Postanjian, who set up a radical opposition party earlier this year, stood by her view that the jailed gunmen are political prisoners. “As a lawyer, I insist that there were no elements of crime in their actions because they willingly came out of [the besieged compound] and laid down their arms,” she said.
Both the United States and the European Union condemned the deadly attack last July. “We obviously condemn strongly the use of violence to effect political change in Armenia or anywhere,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said at the time. “We stress that the use of force to achieve political change is unacceptable,” the EU Delegation in Yerevan said for its part.