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Jailed Militant Slams His Former Leaders


Armenia -- Sasna Tsrer party leaders Zhirayr Sefilian (right) and Varuzhan Avetisian (left) at a press conference in Yerevan, December 25, 2018.

A member of the armed anti-government group that seized an Armenian police base in 2016 has blamed his former leaders for his imprisonment, saying that they sacrificed him for the sake of their own freedom and interests.

The group called Sasna Tsrer stormed the base in Yerevan to demand that then President Serzh Sarkisian free Zhirayr Sefilian, the arrested leader of their wider opposition movement, and step down.

Its members took police officers and medical personnel hostage. They laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with Armenian security forces which left three police officers dead.

All but two of them were released from custody shortly after Sarkisian was toppled in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” led by Nikol Pashinian. Sefilian was also set free.

The two other militants remained behind bars because of facing murder charges denied by them. One of them, Armen Bilian, was set free in February 2021 when a Yerevan court acquitted him of killing one of the three policemen, Warrant Officer Gagik Mkrtchian, in a high-profile trial of nine former gunmen.

Armenia -- Armen Bilian.
Armenia -- Armen Bilian.

In December, the Court of Appeals accepted prosecutors’ demand to overturn the acquittal and sentence Bilian to 25 years in prison. He was arrested again in the courtroom.

The court upheld a 25-year-old prison sentence for Smbat Barseghian, a defendant convicted of killing the two other policemen. It also rejected appeals filed by the seven other Sasna Tsrer members whom the lower court sentenced to between 6 and 8 years in prison.

Unlike Bilian and Barseghian, they remain at large pending an appeal to the higher Court of Cassation and its decision on the case.

In a series of statements made from his prison over the past month, Bilian not only continued to protest his innocence but also hit out at Sefilian and Varuzhan Avetisian, the Sasna Tsrer leader. He said they knew that he did not kill the policeman but still helped to jail him as part of a secret deal with the current authorities.

“They did not object to the investigators’ decision to indict me because of being their accomplices,” Bilian claimed in his latest statement publicized last week.

Armenia - Gagik Mkrtchian, a police officer killed in the July 2016 attack on a police station in Yerevan.
Armenia - Gagik Mkrtchian, a police officer killed in the July 2016 attack on a police station in Yerevan.

“In 2016, Zhirayr [Sefilian] already knew who the real shooter was,” he said. “He hasn’t done anything to clear me of the accusation. He has done everything to ensure that I remain accused.”

Avetisian, who received a 7-year prison sentence, categorically denied the accusations. He insisted that he and Sefilian are in opposition to Armenia’s current government as well and could not have cut any deals with it.

“These are just baseless and ludicrous suppositions which are impossible to answer,” read a statement issued by Avetisian late last month.

More than three years ago, Avetisian also fell out with another leading member of Sasna Tsrer, Pavlik Manukian. The latter claimed in 2018 that the policeman was “accidentally” shot dead not by Bilian but another gunman, Eduard Grigorian.

Armenia - A general view of Yerevan police station seized by supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilian, July 30, 2016.
Armenia - A general view of Yerevan police station seized by supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilian, July 30, 2016.

Alec Yenigomshian, one of the organizers of 2016 demonstrations in support of Sasna Tsrer, has added his voice to Bilian’s allegations. Yenigomshian has accused Sefilian and Avetisian of complicity in what he sees as a murder cover-up.

A spokesman for Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian insisted this week that the murder charge leveled against Bilian was backed up by sufficient evidence.

“If there are individuals who possess concrete evidence to the contrary not known to the court and investigators, they can use legally defined procedures for presenting it,” the official, Gor Abrahamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

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