The leader of Sasna Tsrer, an Armenian party whose members stormed a police station in Yerevan in 2016, on Friday warned Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian against giving the green light to a large-scale mining project opposed by environmentalists.
Zhirayr Sefilian said a government decision to allow a British-American company to restart the project disrupted by protesters over a year ago would be exploited by Pashinian’s bitter political foes branded by him as a Russian “fifth column.”
“The fifth column is praying and waiting for Nikol Pashinian to reactivate the Amulsar mine as soon as possible,” Sefilian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The fifth column has very well calculated that … the people would not allow [mining at Amulsar] and that there would be a clash between the people and police forces there.”
He claimed that heavy-handed police actions against the protesters would deal a huge blow to Pashinian’s popularity and lead to his downfall.
Sefilian admitted that the Amulsar issue was on the agenda of Pashinian’s unexpected meeting with him and another Sasna Tsrer figure, Garegin Chukaszian, held late on Thursday. “We urged Mr. Pashinian yesterday not to make mistakes on this issue,” he said. “If he makes a mistake on Amulsar that will mean his political death. We made this clear to him yesterday.”
Sefilian stressed that his party, which got 1.8 percent of the vote in the December 2018 parliamentary elections, remains opposed to the Amulsar project. “We will not allow the opening of any new metal mines,” he said.
Asked whether Sasna Tsrer will protest if Pashinian’s government decides to restore the Lydian International company’s access to Amulsar, he said: “Of course, and we will protest and at the same time try to ensure that Mr. Pashinian does not issue wrong orders.”
The Lebanese-born politician dismissed speculation that he and his associates have actually pledged not to hamper the Amulsar project as part of a secret deal with Pashinian.
Some of those associates led a 31-member armed group, also called Sasna Tsrer, which seized a Yerevan police base in July 2016 to demand than then President Serzh Sarkisian free Sefilian and step down. Sefilian had been arrested a month before the attack.
The gunmen laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead. All but two of them were set free pending the outcome of their trials shortly after Sarkisian was toppled in last year’s “Velvet Revolution” led by Pashinian.
The two Sasna Tsrer members remaining behind bars stand accused of killing the policemen. They deny the accusations.
In February, Sefilian warned that Sasna Tsrer will “force” the authorities to free the “rebels.” Leaders of the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament denounced the threat.