Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met on Thursday with close relatives of the three Armenian police officers who were killed in the July 2016 standoff with an armed opposition group that seized a police base in Yerevan.
Pashinian discussed what his press office described as their “concerns” raised with him as two more members of the group were set free pending the outcome of their ongoing trials.
A total of 13 jailed gunmen have been released on bail to date. They do not include the leaders of the group calling itself Sasna Tsrer and its two members accused of killing Police Colonel Artur Vanoyan and Warrant Officers Gagik Mkrtchian and Yuri Tepanosian. Both men deny the murder charges.
Immediately after seizing the police facility in Yerevan’s Erebuni district, the three dozen gunmen demanded that then President Serzh Sarkisian free Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, and step down. The gunmen, who took police officers and medical personnel hostage, laid down their weapons after the two-week standoff with security forces.
Armenian courts holding the three separate trials began freeing the militants on June 6 the day after Sasna Tsrer issued a statement in which they voiced support for Pashinian’s government and renounced violent methods of political struggle.
In late May, the armed group’s top leader, Varuzhan Avetisian, and Sefilian denounced Pashinian for his reluctance to tell courts to free all radical oppositionists. They warned that their continued imprisonment could have “severe consequences” for Armenia. The premier rejected “the threats of violence.”
Pashinian has publicly listed Sefilian, but not the jailed gunmen, among the individuals who he believes were imprisoned for political reasons. Shortly after being elected prime minister on May 8, he said the Erebuni attack case is “a bit different” because of the three casualties. He said it should be resolved as a result of public “discussions” that must involve relatives of the slain policemen.
Some of those relatives decried the release of Sasna Tsrer members before the meeting with Pashinian. The courts have freed them in return for bail and other guarantees provided by Armenian parliamentarians. Some of those lawmakers are affiliated with Pashinian’s Yelk alliance.
“I totally share you grief,” Pashinian said at the meeting. “I believe that it is everyone’s grief because I have always been of the opinion that there must be no manifestations of violence in solving internal Armenian issues. I am very happy that the revolution which we carried out took place without any violence, without a single drop of blood.”
The premier went on to stress that he will avoid “any interference” in the work of the courts dealing with the Erebuni case. “It is important for me to hear your views and positions which cannot become court verdicts because I don’t hand down verdicts and would not want to find myself in such a position.”
“To those bodies that are subordinate to the prime minister I will give instructions so that they deal with some issues raised by you,” he added.
Pashinian’s press service did not specify what those issues are.