Armenia. A phase of prolonged standoff
On July 17, a group of armed people seized the area of Erebuni patrol police regiment, demanding released of Jirayr Sefilian, an oppositionist, who had been arrested one month before that. Jirayr Sefilian, the Founding Parliament leader, was arrested for illegal procurement, possession (of) and trafficking in firearms and ammunitions.
On July 17, the rebels insisted that Sefilian should be brought to the seized territory, claiming they would obey only his order. In addition, the armed group members demanded resignation of the Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan. The support to the group members and its demands has grown into a protest movement, which has no clear-cut leaders so far.
Artur Vanoyan, the police colonel, was killed and five police officers, as well as one of the group members, were wounded, during the seizure of the patrol police regiment area.
A lawyer of Alek Yenigomshyan, the Founding Parliament member, notified the Ombudsman that his client’s rights were not ensured in the detention facility, and that due to his health state he required special conditions. As a result of interference of the Ombudsman’s Office rapid response unit, Yenigomshyan’s detention conditions have been improved to some extent.
About 30 public organizations issued a joint statement, addressed to the Armenian MPs, in which they condemned the National Assembly’s ‘unforgivable and unacceptable inaction’. On the 11th day since the beginning of the developments, as the tension further increased, the representatives of the civil society called for the lawmakers’ response, urging them to invoke their right to convene the emergency Parliament session in order to discuss the current situation and find the way for peaceful solution of the problem.
Ermine Nagdalya, an MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), told journalists her opinion in this regard. She again tried to justify the RPA members’ long-drawn silence by their intention not to spoil the ongoing fragile negotiation process with the Sasna Tsrer members. As a reminder, earlier, the RPA spokesperson, Eduard Sharmazanov, had also made similar statement.
Meanwhile, 13 journalistic and human rights organizations released a petition, demanding to immediately stop persecution of Levon Barsegyan, the head of Asparez press club, who was ‘falsely accused of possession of the bladed weapon.’ The organizations that signed the petition believe, a pocket knife seized from Barsegyan was just a pretext for punishing him for his civic stance.
A civil rally in support of the Sasna Tsrer group members and their demands, namely President Sargsyan’s resignation, traditionally started at 8 p.m. For already two days the rally was held at the Freedom Square instead of Khorenatsi street, which is in close vicinity to the seized patrol police regiment.
At 9 p.m., the rally organizers announced, they were going to hold a march, this time, towards the President’s residence. This caused the rally participants’ elation, since they had been long waiting for that command.
The procession got underway, chanting in unison “Free, Independent Armenia, “Sasna Tsrer, and calling for president’s resignation.
A heavy rain that started almost simultaneously with the march neither scared nor prevented its participants. However, having passed halfway, the organizers decided to stop the march, saying the rain was getting stronger and it was impossible to continue the march in such conditions.
The participants were discontent with that decision and expressed their indignation over the fact that they had been constantly given contradictory commands. But even this discontent didn’t make the people disperse.
They left the rally venue only after 10 p.m., when the organizers told them to go home, advising them to take care and not to catch cold, since they, ‘the active citizens, have a long struggle ahead’.
Today, the employees of the Ombudsman’s Office have visited the hospital for convicted individuals in order to get information on the health condition of the wounded members of the Sasna Tsrer group, who are undergoing medical treatment there.
They have also visited the NSS agency, where a member of the Founding Assembly, Alek Yenigomshyan, is kept in custody, as well as the police department, where Levon Barsegyan, the head of Asparez press club, is kept.
The Ombudsman’s Office hasn’t reported yet about the conclusions made by its employees after those visits, but it has released the following statement:
“We believe, it is unacceptable to detain citizens without substantiated grounds and explanations. We would like to remind that under the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, all citizens should be provided information on the reasons for deprivation of their freedom in a comprehensible language. This provision of the Constitution has immediate effect and should be subject to implicit execution.
Another protest rally passed without any incidents. The majority of its participants already dispersed.
The rally organizers suggested marching to the patrol police HQ, the National Security Service and the government buildings so as to ‘prove that they have not been broken’. However, the participants disagreed with the proposed route. Having voted, they started marching towards Khorenatsi street, i.e., towards the area seized by the armed group.
The organizers’ explanations that movement in the banned direction would not be a support to the Sasna Tsrer group, but would rather play into the provokers’ hands, didn’t much convince the demonstrators.
The protesters peacefully marched across the city, chanting ‘We are the masters of our country.’ What raised concerns, was the protesters’ meeting with the police. Here the protesters voiced their demand: the President should come here within an hour and announce his resignation.
After the aforesaid period expired and it became clear that the demand would not be met, a quarrel arose between the protestors. However, everything finally came right.
The Freedom Square has become the rally venue this time. The day before that, the police banned any gatherings in Khorenatsi street, in close vicinity to the seized patrol police regiment. However, the ban didn’t work that day.
This time, a few hours before a traditional rally in Khorenatsi street, the police started detaining each and every passerby in the street except the reporters. The residents of the nearby houses were even afraid to go outside to buy some bread. This situation made the rally organizers change the ‘meeting venue.’
As Albert Baghdasaryan, one of the members of the movement’s initiative group, reported during the rally, Alek Yenigomshyan, his fellow-in-arms and a permanent speaker at the rallies, had been detained and taken to the National Security Service. Baghdasaryan said, he was not sure, he would be able to join the protest rally the next day, so he was instructing future speakers, which issues to pay particular attention to.
Levon Barsegyan, a journalist, the head of Gyumri-based “Asparez press club, was also detained last night. As Barsegyan’s son has reported, his father has been accused of ‘illegal possession of bladed weapons, to be more precise, a pocket knife.’
It was said here that 64 citizens had been taken to the police and one of them had been arrested. Meanwhile, the Armenian mass media reported that the individuals detained in Khorenatsi street had been taken to the MoI internal troops unit. The lawyers were protesting: it’s illegal, that’s not the place where detainees could be kept.
The protesters were briefed on the wounded members of the armed group. Pavel and Aram Manukyans’ health condition stabilized. Aram was taken to the hospital for convicted individuals. Both of them had been already charged under Part 3, Article 219 (seizure of buildings, facilities, transport and communication means) and Article 235 (illegal procurement, storage, sale, possession or trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosive devices or substances) of the Criminal Code of Armenia.
As for the ambulance medics, who had arrived in the seized territory to render medical assistance to the wounded armed group members and who then allegedly were not allowed to leave the area, the Sasna Tsrer group members still insist that the medics are not the hostages. However, until they are not allowed to leave the area and replaced by another ambulance crew, they actually are the hostages. However, in the evening, the Sasna Tsrer group members finally released one out of four medics, David Tonoyan.
As Salvador Khechoyan, an ambulance medic, reported on the phone, there was one wounded person in the territory of the seized patrol police regimen, who needed to be taken to the hospital, since it was impossible to render him any assistance in those conditions, without necessary medical preparations.
The National Security Service (NSS) released another statement, in which it put forward the following demands to the armed group members:
- Let the wounded persons be rendered qualified medical assistance,
- Release all hostages
- Lay down arms and surrender to the authorities.
The reports on the ongoing developments are rather controversial
At the news conference that has just finished, the Founding Parliament member, Alek Yenigomshyan stated:
- There are no hostages on the territory of the patrol police regiment, simply the group members demand that the doctors, who are now staying there, be replaced by some other ones, so as to maintain a round-a-clock vigil
- The armed group members didn’t surrender. They brought the stretchers for the wounded and at that very moment they were abducted by the police.
- Artur Sargsyan, who managed to break through the police cordon and delivered food to the group, is now in the territory of the seized regiment. They have been rumors that he was allegedly inserted there by the police. However, the armed group members don’t share this opinion
- The negotiations are just an imitation
- Sasna Tsrer group calls on the MPs to meet them.
Two more wounded members of Sasna Tsrer armed group had been staying in the territory of the seized patrol police regiment. The doctors, who arrived to render medical assistance to the wounded, were taken hostage by the group members. As the police press service has reported, the negotiations on their release are underway.
As the head of the police press service has reported on his Facebook page, two members of the armed group [Pavel Manukyan and his son, Aram] were wounded in a night shootout in the territory of the seized patrol police regiment. Two members of the Sasna Tsrer group, Gagik Yeghiazaryan and Aram Hakobyan, surrendered to the police.
The wounded were taken to the hospital and operated on. The Sasna Tsrer members are reported to be in critical condition. Doctors say, their lives are at risk. As for the police officer, his condition has been assessed as moderately grave.
The Sasna Tsrer group claimed, four of its members had been wounded as a result of the police attack. The police had allegedly abducted the wounded [Pavel and Aram Manukyan] and two more members of the group.
Several participants in the protest rally in Khorenatsi street, including Levon Barsegyan, a leader of the protest rally initiative group, were detained by the police at night.
Another mass protest rally was held in Khorenatsi street from 8p.m. to 10p.m., on July 26.The initiative group, which is coordinating the movement, decided not change the rally venue despite the police warning. President’s resignation was traditionally on rally agenda. No incidents were reported during the rally.
At the close of the rally the participants marched along Yerevan streets towards the police HQ and then, towards the National Security Council building. According to the organizers, about 20,000 people participated in the march.
The participants were chanting ‘Jirayr’ [Jirayr Sefilian, whose release the armed group members have been demanding], ‘Freedom to all political prisoners’. The participants were calling on the people to join them. They were applauding and stamping their feet. The march was brief, well-organized, peaceful and more enthusiastic. The Armenian capital hasn’t witnessed such an event for quite a long time, to more precise, since June last year, when people http://jam-news.net/Publication/Get/ru-RU/437 hit the streets in protest against increase of the power tariffs.
As Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported with reference to Jirayr Sefilian’s lawyer, http://www.azatutyun.am/a/27881714.html Sefilian expects the government to show ‘a sober approach’ and therefore, he is not going to unveil the details of the ongoing negotiations in order not to hamper the process.
In addition, Sefilian stated: “We have a clear political program to peacefully solve the problem. It is evident that any delay in launching of the negotiation process is leading to an escalation of the situation, which could result in more clashes, injuries and human casualties, that will be definitely the government’s fault.
The march finished where it had started – in Khorenatsi street. The organizers went to the police officers and requested to contact them to Sasna Tsrer group members –just a single phone call to make sure they were fine.
The matter is that during the march there came reports on sporadic shooting from the territory of the seized patrol police regiment. The protesters waited for quite a long time for the police officials to come up to them. During that time, some protesters appealed to the police not to resist them and let them enter the seized territory in case they failed to establish communication.
The rally continued and the participants called on rank and file police officers to join it. They also issued a warning that in case of a bloodshed, the entire responsibility would rest on the police chief.
The organizers failed to reach consensus between each other, but they still decided not to resort to confrontation with the police.
An assault warning?
At 5 p.m., the National Security Service (NSS) released another statement, saying the armed group members, who had seized the patrol police regiment, continued acting in the manner that posed risk to the lives and health of the law-enforcement officers, as well as might destroy the property. As it is also pointed out in the statement, the armed group members’ behavior went beyond the permissible limits. In this regard, the NSS will have to resort to ‘tougher measures’, prompted by this particular situation, so as to avoid and prevent new crimes.
The statement was enclosed with a video record of the armed group members’ conversation, which, as the NSS believes, testifies to the ‘aggressive and provocative nature’ of the group members’ actions.
Before that, at around 4 p.m., the following statement had been released by the police: “There is a real and direct risk of rapid escalation of tension at the blocked section of Khorenatsi street, that may lead to the unpredictable consequences. Therefore, there is no other way to avoid the threat to the lives and health of the rally participants, as well as to the public safety, but to move the meeting [the matter concerns a traditional rally, daily held in Khorenatsi street from 8 to 10 p.m.] to some other place.
Therefore, Armenian police demands from the actual orchestrators of the meeting to change the rally venue within the shortest time possible, so that the police could ensure safety of the rally participants as art of their commitment to facilitate peaceful assemblies.
Otherwise, the RA police will have no other means but to stop the meeting “in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the law.
Mass media have received a statement, released by Sasna Tsrer group this morning, in which it reported on two incidents. The first one occurred at around 2 a.m. According to Sasna Tsrer, several shots were made from the police cordon in the direction of the armed group members. Two members of the group were wounded in the legs. Both were taken to the hospital. The second incident reportedly happened at 7 a.m. As it is pointed out in Sasna Tsrer’s statement, Artur Sargsyan managed to drive through the police cordon and delivered food to the group members. Police officers fired at the car, but Artur Sargsyan was not affected.
The message ends with the words as follows: “We call on you to continue a joint struggle. We are very close to the victory.
The police have released a video footage of the incident, explaining that they opened fire at the car that was trying to break through the cordon and that they were shooting at the engine block and then at the car tires. As a result, two out of three passengers were wounded and were taken to the hospital.
On a side note, one more wounded member of the Sasna Tsrer group is staying in the territory of the patrol police regiment. He was wounded on the day of seizure of the patrol police territory. According to the Armenian media reports, the police officer, who died on that day, had fallen victim of that man’s shooting. Later it was suggested that the wounded armed group member should be taken to hospital. However, he refused. Moreover, he rejected the medical assistance, offered by a doctor who was brought to the seized territory.
From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. , as is usually the case in the recent days, a rally has been held in Khorenatsi street, in the vicinity of the seized patrol police regiment. The initiative group coordinating the protest rally has reported that the armed group was not provided with food, medicines and electric power. The communication was not set up either, though from time to time it is possible to contact those, who are in the seized patrol police regiment.
The protesters’ demands have been voiced again and this time they have been formulated as follows:
· Release of the political prisoners,
· Restoration of the independence of Armenia;
· The liberated territories [around Nagorno-Karabakh] should not be subject to return;
· Formation of the government of public trust;
· Snap presidential elections and Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation.
The rally has become more emotional. The rally participants together with the journalists, who gathered here, and the human rights activist, Levan Barsegyan, have been chanting the lines from “David Sasunsky’ epos that contains a call for a joint struggle. As it has been announced, there have been more rally participants at today’s rally than yesterday or earlier, and that from now on, the residents of Gymri and Vanadzor will also join it by organizing similar rallies in their cities.
At the same time, the police press service has reported that the armed group set fire to a “Chevrolet service bus in the territory of the seized patrol police regiment. This is already the third transports means set afire by the armed group. Yesterday, the Sasna Tsrer members set fire to a GAZel minibus and claimed, they were thus protesting against Internet and power cut-off.
The law-enforcement bodies have called on them to refrain from actions that could be dangerous for people’s life and health.
The National Security Service (NSS) again released a statement, calling on the armed group members to surrender. After enlisting the violations committed by them and specifying the punishment they would be facing, the NSS reported that each group member’s guilt would be determined individually. In addition, it is also reported that individuals, who dropped their demands and voluntarily released the hostages, as well voluntarily gave up the seized property, would be granted relief from criminal liability.
Those, who will take into account the aforesaid and decide to surrender, are explained, how they should act: where to go, how to hold their arms and how to lay them down.
As Alek Yenikomshian, the Founding Assembly member, stated at the news conference in Khorenatsi street (in the vicinity of the seized patrol police regiment), Jirayr Sefilian demanded to hold a meeting with President Sargsyan and the Sasna Tsrer group members. Sefilian is going to discuss with the President possible resolution of the situation, rather than the President’s resignation.
Albert Baghdasaryan, the Founding Assembly member, stated that they would transfer the armed confrontation into a civil and political plane. The ‘insubordination centers’ will be set up in Yerevan and the country’s regions.
The authorities have been given time till 8 p.m. to settle the issue with provision of food, power supply and communication to the armed group members. If the abovementioned issues are not solved until that time, then they will discuss their further actions.
The hostages have been freed, but the armed group is not going to surrender. The authorities realize pretty well that an assault on the territory, seized by the armed group members, would cause public outrage, not to mention the fact that it would be dangerous, and not only for those, who would be targeted.
First of all, it will be dangerous for the assaulters, themselves, since they will have to seize the people, who know how to fight, who possess the weapons, and who have probably even mined the area, as some Armenian media outlets reported. If the territory has been mined, the assault operation will be also dangerous for the residents of the nearby areas.
At the same time, the Sasna Tsrer group is not going to drop its demands. As one of the group members, Varuzhan Avetisyan, stated at a news conference in the territory of the seized patrol police regiment, on July 23: “The key demand that we have put forward is Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation and formation of a new government, that will enjoy public trust. And the first demand on this path is the release of Jirair Sefilian and other political prisoners.
The situation in Khorenatsi street, that has become a venue for the traditional rallies organized in support of the armed group, is calm now. No more clashes between the police and the protesters occur here. People, who expect some sweeping changes in the country, gather at this place. However, the process of formation of the ‘government of public trust’ is not an easy one.
The Sasna Tsrer group has rejected Nikol Pashinyan, an MP, who intended to get a grip on the movement’s political leadership. As Varuzhan Avetisyan stated in this regard: “Mr. Pashinyan actually…tried to use the raising public movement for his personal, narrow-party interests, and this fact deserves condemnation. I hope, Mr. Pashinyan will refrain from making similar moves in future.
As a result, Pashinyan has decided not to participate in these rallies at all. The matter is that during the news conference in the territory of the seized patrol police regiment, Vitaly Balasanyan, a mediator in the negotiations between the authorities and the armed group members (who finally achieved release of the hostages and setting up the press center), voiced Jirair Sefilian’s statement, in which he backed down on the demand for president’s resignation.
Pashinyan expressed hope that Sefilian would find an opportunity to refute that information and left the venue, saying: “I’ve been blamed for being engaged in personal promotion for two days already. All members of the Civil Agreement party and I [Pashinyan represents the aforesaid party], will leave this platform and will express our will and our attitude…
Albert Baghdassarian, the Karabakh Committee member, who has become the key public speaker after Pashinyan left the venue, has stated: “we will create the mechanisms, so that Jirair Sefilian could communicate his ideas without any mediators. I am sure, we be able to hear Jirair’s word.
Meanwhile, the people in Armenia are getting convinced that through their actions the armed group actually stopped the process of signing the document on the Karabakh issue, that was assessed in local press as a unilateral compromise, which is essentially dangerous for the NKR.
And the recent articles in the Russian press also testify to the aforesaid. Since the Russian side is an author and initiator of signing this document, some sharp insinuations have been made against the United States, allegedly thwarting the peace talks on the Karabakh issue:
“The USA’s subtle play could be clearly seen behind the Founding Parliament activists’ actions. The USA is continuously trying to blow up a fragile peace in the NKR and is now disrupting the diplomatic talks, capable of healing the wounds, inflicted by the April hostilities.
Sefilian is one of those few Armenian politicians, who stand for withdrawal of the Russian troops from Gyumri military base, which he regards as ‘proxy of the Russian interests in the South Caucasus.’
Not wonder that his supporters, who are as persistent as their leader, have extremely fussily taken the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that were constructively developing with the mediation of Russia. The very fact of negotiations prevents the implementation of their objective- to wage a new bloody war. Therefore, the more obvious the diplomatic success was, the more active and challenging were Sefilian’s supporters.
Under one of the Russian versions, ‘the U.S. intelligence ‘spotted’ them and assessed them as a rater promising group for stirring up the situation in the republic.’ All that may seem quite logical for the Russian readers, but that’s not the case for Armenia, where Sefilian is known as a radical oppositionist and being extremely categorical, but surely not intending to wage a ‘bloody war’. He participated in the Karabakh war and he is well-aware, what it could bring the country and its people.
The Russian side’s proposed so-called ‘Lavrov’s plan’ implies ‘broader autonomy for NKR as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan under Russia’s guarantees, as well as ‘return of the territories ensuring NKR’s security’.
Such a solution to the problem has been offered to the parties for years. All the Armenian presidents knew: their signature to this document meant that it would be the last one for them in this capacity and that it would be followed either by a voluntary or forced resignation. Thus, from this point of view, the incumbent president is probably grateful to the armed group for escaping such an end of his political career, even though it demands his resignation.
The Armenian print media have quoted Sasna Tsrer group member, Varuzhan Avetisyan, , saying Armenia was a ‘quasi-state’. “There are no institutes here: parties are not the parties they should be, the public figures are not the public figures and the officials are not the officials, some of them are mere rascals. It’s impossible to proceed this way, we are losing everything. The group’s call is that the movement should be coordinated by the persons with ‘clear biography’ rather than by a man or two, who ‘will subject it to their personal and party interests’:
«We are bound to each other’s heart, the movement is acquiring a constructive shape, and we will soon get what we are dreaming of…we are building a new state, we are reconstructing the Republic of Armenia.
It still resembles utopia. But the armed standoff continues and it is quite real. More practical solutions have not been suggested by anyone so far.
63 journalists, escorted by the National Security Service officers, headed in 4 police cars to the territory of the seized patrol police regiment. The armed group members held a news conference there, on a neutral territory.
The reporters were not allowed to bring computers and phones along with them. They only equipment they were the recording devices and cameras. Varuzhan Avetisyan, the Sasna Tsrer group member, stated, the reports that they were going to surrender, were not true.
The rest of the group members also confirmed, they would surrender only in case they get such an order from Jirayr Sefilian, whom they accepted unconditionally and whom they tied their lives with.
As a reminder, the group demands Safilian’s release and still insists on President Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation. They are not interested in the government’s dismissal and it could not substitute the demands that they had put forward. About an hour later after the news conference began, the journalist were allowed to use the equipment they brought along with them and provide livestream of the conversation with the armed group members.
Vitaly Balasanyan, MP from Nagorno-Karabakh, who was engaged in talks with the armed group members all those days, has been beside the journalists since that moment.
As the journalists have been also told, within the next 15 days or a month they could come here at any time and report the information.
Vardan Yeghiazaryan, Deputy Chief of Police of Armenia, and Valery Osipyan, Deputy Chief of Yerevan Police, have been released by the armed group. All hostages freed.
As Varuzhan Avetisyan, the Sasna Tsrer group member, told Araratnews.am reporter, they had launched an armed uprising and it would continue. The demand for President’s resignation is still in effect.
Varuzhan Avetisyan, Sasna Tsrer group member and the Founding Parliament spokesperson, told GALA TV company, a meeting with the National Security Service chief, Giorgi Kutoyan, had been held with the mediation of Vitaly Balasanyan, the Artsakh hero. The decision was made to release the hostages under the condition that a press center would be set up.
After the consultations, the armed group members decided to take an additional goodwill step and release two young police officers: “The process is underway right now in the presence of Mr. Balasanyan, Varuzhan Avetisyan told GALA TV reporter.
The armed group members left to Balasanyan’s discretion the decision-making on the press center’s location. Two more hostages, the general and the colonel, will be released after the press center is opened.
On social media
The Facebook discussions on the recent developments in Yerevan continue on several trends:
Trend 1: Sasna Tsrer members are heroes, they should be supported
“Long live Pavlik [Pavel Manukyan, one of the armed group members] and his friends. He took his son on this operation, which means, he is ready to sacrifice not only his life, but also his son’s life. How can we not support him in his struggle? We should stand as one side-by-side with him and the rest of the guys from Sasna Tsrer.
“Sasna Tsrer has demonstrated honor, courage and honesty. They are the pride of our nation”.
Trend 2: Those, who resort to violence, should not be allowed to come to power
“Can you imagine, what will happen if the government is really changed and the people, who have taken hostages and who are giving interviews mixed with swearing, will come to power?
Trend 3: Politicians, who are trying to lead the movement, are the opportunists
“Nikol Pashinyan is gaining dividends ahead of 2017 parliamentary elections. I am positive about his recent calls for non-use of force, and negative that he has changed his position four times within a day.
Trend 4: The government should be changed
“I said, I was looking forward to the President’s reaction and I wanted to know his position, but now, after his address, I am so much disappointed that I take my words back: he’d better not have made that statement at all.
“At long last! The Prime Minister has uttered a word! ‘Armenian authorities will do their best to solve the situation with seizure of the patrol police regiment in Yerevan,” stated Hovik Abrahamyan. He said, what happened on July 17 was unacceptable. What happened in the country on July 18,19 and 20, as well as over the past few years, is probably acceptable in his opinion.
The Premier and concurrently also the key fighter against corruption in the country, said ‘changes couldn’t be achieved through violence. It’s a dangerous and prospectless process. The situation give grounds for concerns.’ And what should people do? Is anyone in the government going to radically change anything, so as to give the country’s citizens at least some hope?
No one has doubts that ‘the authorities will do everything possible to settle the situation’. Settle the people’s lives! Settle at least something apart from you own wellbeing!
Trend 5: People have been thrown in at the deep end, there are no real leaders
“As a person, who has to track in line of duty for 24 hours all the news from the incident scene, live on air, on the phone with the colleagues, etc., I still don’t like much what is going on in Yerevan. I have a permanent feeling that people on both sides of the barricades have been set adrift. The armed people have gained power, which means that anything could happen. Thus, let me repeat my three-day-old wish: let no one die today. And tomorrow either…
Already a traditional evening rally has taken on political overtones. Unlike the evening of July 21, when there was an obvious lack of political leaders and clear-cut goals, on July 22, the politicians have appeared, who have tried to take a firm hold of the movement.
In particular, Nikol Pashinyan, an MP, who was on the ground when the clashed between the police and the protestors occurred, and who has been holding negotiations with all the parties (police, rally participants and the armed group members) all these days, has been perceived by people as a politician, who deserves trust and a right to speak on behalf of the nation.
The rally goals have been clearly stated: the release of the political prisoners and the resignation of country’s President, Serzh Sargsyan. Some statements have been made that the rally would be permanently held each evening, from 8 to 10 p.m. , and the people could come here to express their opinion and hear the others. The appeals have been made not to watch the televised broadcasting of the rally at home, but rather to join the rally participants.
When saying goodbye to those, who gathered in Khorenatsi street, Niko Pashinyan has stated that time has come to stop watching the developments on the web and get personally involved in the rallies, otherwise that would mean a support to the incumbent president. He has also invited the diaspora Armenians to join the next rally in order to be involved in the process that will shape their motherland’s fate.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first President of Armenia, who is known to be rarely making statements for press, has expressed in writing his opinion on the July 17 armed uprising and further developments in response to numerous requests from various media outlets. No matter how surprising it may seem, Ter-Petrosyan, a radical oppositionist, has actually shared the incumbent President, Serzh Sargsyan’s opinion. Here is an abstract of the first President’s answer to the Armenian media outlets’ questions:
“As a rule, any state, nation or society, with its diverse domestic differences and discords, puts them all aside when facing the external challenges to the motherland and unites efforts to resist them.
After the four-day war in April, the Armenian nation has been facing that very challenge, namely such important problems as ensuring security of the Artsakh Armenians and finding a favorable solution to the Karabakh conflict, which overshadows all other issues that concern the Armenian people.
Consequently, any step, word or action of the authorities, parties, public organizations, analysts or journalists, should be assessed from the viewpoint of whether they contribute or do harm to the settlement of this utmost issue.
Regrettably, however, many seem not to be realizing the importance of assessment of this particular criteria of their own words and actions, and what is more dangerous, we still don’t have that golden law that is intrinsic to the mature countries, peoples and societies, when they unite their efforts and put aside all domestic problems when facing an external challenge. And this may lead us to a national catastrophe
It’s senseless to moralize and give patriotism lessons to Jirayr Sefilian [the armed group is demanding his release] and his fellows-in-arms. Their patriotism needs no proof. They proved it on the battlefield by selfless and voluntary participation in the Artsakh war.
With all his fervency and all-or-nothing thinking, personal contact with him convinced me that he could judge soberly and make reasonable decisions. Let me express hope that this ability will not fail him this time too, and that he will put the fate of Karabakh and Armenia above everything”.
Today, the Armenian President has convened a meeting with participation of the top law-enforcement officials and finally expressed his opinion on the recent developments in the country:
“The hostages should be released and the armed group members should lay down the weapons. The situation will further develop to its final resolution in strict compliance with the constitution and the laws of the Republic of Armenia. Any attempts of personal revenge will be suppressed by the power of law. Yes, many are dissatisfied in Armenia. However, let no one mistakenly think, they can exploit any opportunity and pretext to shake the foundations of our statehood.
We value the life and health of each citizen of our country. We didn’t take a path that is considered standard in this kind of situations. Thus, we have given the armed group a chance to backtrack. Yet, we have no right to let the entire society be held hostage by this tension. I think, this situation has lasted longer than we could afford. There isn’t much time passed since April [the hostilities on the contact line of Azerbaijani and Karabakh troops], so that the society could be bold as to forget what happened then.
I once again call for vigilance and restraint for the sake of the Republic of Armenia and our people’s future.
The night passed quietly. The expected clashes didn’t occur, since the protesters finally got the information that the issue of provision of the armed group members with food had been settled. It appears that the standoff is entering a new, prolonged phase. Many people come here not just to support the Sasna Tsrer group members, but also with the hope for changes in the country, in general. However, there is neither a leader and nor a clearly set goal for that so far.
At the recent briefing for press, Eduard Sharmazanov, the Republican Party press secretary, answered the question about why the authorities, namely the country’s President and the representatives of the ruling party, were not making any comments on the recent developments and the armed group’s actions
As Sharmazanov stated, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) held to the peaceful resolution of the issue exclusively through the negotiations. The party representatives were not giving interviews in order not to hamper the negotiation process.
The citizens’ rally continues. It is proceeding peacefully so far.
Another clash is boiling up between the people, who have gathered at the blocked road, and the police officers. The armed group supporters are trying again to settle the matter with delivering some food to the armed group members. As we have already reported, one of the group members, Pavel Manukyan, once again confirmed today, they did not have either the food or cigarettes. Yesterday’s clashes broke out because policemen refused to answer the protesters’ questions on whether they could pass some food to the group members or not. The same situation is recurring today.
ArmLur.am has reported the content of one more phone conversation with the Sasna Tsrer armed group member, Pavel Manukyan. As he reported, the talks with the authorities were continued through the mediators – the persons, who enjoy respect among the armed group members.
Vitaly Balasyanyan, Nagorno-Karabakh MP, Major General and veteran of the Karabakh war, has assumed the negotiator’s function today. The details of the negotiations have not been publicized.
ArmLur.am media outlet cited Pavel Manukyan, one of the armed group members, whom it contacted on the phone today. He confirmed that the armed group members were lacking food and cigarettes, but they would hold out. A phrase ‘We will die, but will not surrender’ was voiced again. As Pavel Manukyan reported, Sasna Tsrer organization members, as well as the individuals that were kept hostage, were fine and even ‘excellent’.
The Investigation Committee’s investigative department has instituted criminal proceedings under Part 2, Article 225 of the Criminal Code in connection with the developments on July 20 [violation of the public order, property damage, exertion of violence against the individuals performing their official duties]. As the committee pointed out in its statement, 28 people were detained on suspicion of direct involvement in the incident, 16 of them were arrested.
As Armenian Prime Minister, Hovik Abrahamyan, stated before the government session, ‘changes cannot be achieved through violence, it’s all in vain and has no prospects,‘ and ‘the government will do its bets to solve the problem peacefully.’
According to the police reports, 136 people have been arrested. 51 people, including 29 police officers, are being rendered medical assistance in hospitals.
At 04:14, the policemen demanded from the protesters to leave the driveway. Later they insisted that the protesters should abandon the area and gave them 15 minutes to do that. At 04:38, the police officers surged forward and detained all those, who refused to comply with their demand. Finally, only the policemen and reporters were left on the ground. However, the latter were also urged to leave the area.
The situation is calming down. Part of the rally participants are driving in the cars with the Armenian flags around the area cordoned off by the police. They are horning. Whereas others are still standing at the police cordon, in order, as they put it, to support those, who are in the territory of the patrol police regiment, as well as to prevent a bloodshed.
The protesters claim, one of their fellows has been detained by the police a few minutes ago and they demand to return him back. The clergymen went to negotiate with the police, but they returned without him. As they have told the protesters, they didn’t see the detainee there. Neither do the police officers know anything about the detainee.
However, the people don’t believe them.
The Health Ministry reports, 45 people injured, including 25 police officers.
Clashes have resumed. Shooting has started.
20.07. 2016 22.15
It seems, the situation is calming down. Yet, there is no confidence that a new wave of tension could be avoided.
20.07. 2016 22.15
The young people are casting stones at the police officers, who have shielded the street leading to the territory seized by the armed group. Shortly before that, the citizens who gathered here, were asking the police, whether they could pass some food to the armed group members. The policemen were not answering their questions, which, according to the reporters, caused the people’s indignation. They started casting stones, smoke pallets, and a clash began. There have been reports on injuries among both, the policemen and the civilians.
The matter is that the armed group members made a statement, saying they were lacking food. Meanwhile, the law-enforcement agency claimed, they had been provided with everything necessary. Therefore, the residents collected some food and brought it to the territory of the patrol police regiment, that is blocked from all sides. Nikol Pashinyan, an MP, has tried to calm down the situation. The reports and cameramen are standing between the policemen and the civilians.
09:30 (Armenian time) July 20
The night passed peacefully. The situation remains unchanged. Intensive negotiations are underway with those, who seized the patrol police regiment and who have been holding four hostages, in order to avoid use of firearms and new casualties.
Some rumors were spread on the eve that the “Alfa Russian special task forces had arrived in the country on the invitation of the Armenian side for storming the territory, seized by the armed group. However, Ashot Karapetyan, Yerevan Police Chief, denied the reports.
07:30 (Armenian time) July 19
The situation on the incident scene is calm. The number of the police officers has reduced and corresponds to the number of people, present on the ground.
03:00 (Armenian time) July 19
A rally in support of the armed group, holding hostages in the territory of the patrol police regiment, continues, though the number of its participants has considerably decreased.
00:30 (Armenian time) July 19
The rally participants, who gathered on the incident scene, made a televised statement for press live on air of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), broadcasted through the Internet.
They called on the population of Armenia, in particular, those, who were rallying in the city center, to joint them so as to prevent an assault against the Sasna Tsrets organization members and stop the bloodshed. As they said: “Some of those guys were fighting for our country, they are not the terrorists.
Then, the RFE/RL journalist read out live the law-enforcement agency’s statement, calling on the citizens not to hamper the law-enforcements’ anti-terrorist operation. However, a few minutes later, the rally participants, whom the armed group members had called to join them, appeared on the incident scene.
23:50 (Armenian time) July 18
Starting from 11 p.m., more police units were brought up to the incident scene. The police officers in bulletproof vests lined up in the forefront of the cordon. About 100 people, participating in the armed group support rally, appeared on the scene at 11:45p.m.
The armed group members, holding hostages in the territory of the patrol police regiment, welcomed the newcomers with the gun salute. In response to that, the rally participants started chanting “Free, independent Armenia.
21.00 (Armenian time) July 18
As one of the armed group members, Pavel Manukyan, told A1+ correspondent during the phone conversation today, they were going to push the matter through. “And the end may differ: either the victory or the death.
A rally under the slogan “Freedom to the political prisoners is currently underway in Yerevan center. The rally participants have been permitted to hold a march following the negotiations with Deputy Police Chief, Hunan Poghosyan. People are marching along the capital’s streets, chanting “Free, independent Armenia.
16:00 (Armenian time) July 18
The National Security Service of Armenia has released another statement, this time saying that “on July 18, the people staying on the territory of the patrol police regiment were provided with food and necessary medicine.
As a result of comprehensive measures, taken by the law enforcement agencies, including the negotiations, one more hostage has been released from the seized territory. And yet, these encouraging episodes do not guarantee the desirable final result, and do not exclude possible tragic consequences, the responsibility for which will rest solely upon the initiators of the attack. “
15:00 (Armenian time) July 18
On social media
Armenian social media users have been actively discussing the developments
Trend 1: It’s the authorities’ fault
“The uprisings may differ; different demands may be raised, but there is always one reason: the government’s inapt policy. You should look for the guilty at #26 Baghramyan str. [address of the president’s residence].
Trend 2: The armed group members are true patriots
“To the madness of the brave this song we sing!, wrote Aleksey Peshkov. Those guys are not the idiots as they have been portrayed, they are more likely to be the kamikaze. They have turned out to be the least reserved ones out of the total mass of the Armenian people. They are a priori the losers, but apart from deep regret, their flash has caused a wild respect in me! Their patriotism raises no questions, they have been trying to prove it for over 20 years. They were the guys who seized Shushi!
I know, they will lose, their chances are equal to zero, but I still pray for them and ask the Almighty to prevent the bloodshed! You’ve acted hastily, guys, too hastily…You should have done that later, after gaining the people’s support. Your honesty, sincerity and fervor have failed you … I know, you are not afraid of death, but I pray to God so that you survive. Amen!
Trend 3: The armed group members could be the patriots, but they’ve committed a crime
“It’s been said thousand times that democracy cannot be established with the arms in hand. Those, who come to power with the arms in hand then defend their power with those arms. Only through political means the peaceful power can bring sweeping changes and radically change the situation. Hatred gives birth to hatred, violence leads to violence.
“In any other country this situation will be presented as follows:
A group of ultra-radical armed people took several hostages in the police station building, demanding release of a far-right nationalist political figure. They also urge the president to resign.
In our case it sounds different: “A group of Karabakh war veterans, together with several young activists (and then as mentioned in the text), demanding release of the Karabakh war hero…They also…
That’s as a side note. And this is more likely to concern the public, its inability to find one’s position and give an assessment.
As far as the reality is concerned, the group is so small that it’s zest and ‘revolutionary spirit’ has tuned turned out to be suffice just for a single police station. I don’t know, what has inspired the leaders – a coup attempt in Turkey or a story of seizing the Parliament building in Yerevan in 1999. By the way, both options are bad.
Trend 4: People didn’t support the armed group
“Notice: It seems, the expectations that there will be support on part of broader masses of people, attacking the police regiment in Erebuni, has fallen short. They knew themselves, what they were going into. Whereas the broad and less broader masses do not quite understand, what they are doing. It is to be hoped that it will end without a bloodshed.
12:00 (Armenian time) July 18
The National Security Service has released another statement, saying two hostages were freed as a result of lengthy negotiations and after taking special measures. In particular, one of the police officers and the ambulance driver were freed. The armed group refused to release the rest of the hostages, as well as to lay down their arms and surrender.
A quote from the National Security Service’s statement:
“The terrorists, already having committed crimes and having large quantity of arms and ammunition at their disposal, are an obvious and direct threat for both, the hostages and the public.
The law-enforcement bodies of the Republic of Armenia are taking all possible and available steps for a peaceful resolution of the situation. However, it may not be enough under such circumstances. Therefore, we urge once again all members of the armed group to refrain from criminal actions that can result in casualties and other severe consequences, and to stop the armed resistance. There is still time and opportunity for that.
09:30 (Armenian time) July 18
The situation has not changed overnight. The tension has not relaxed. The group, that had penetrated on the territory of the Armenian patrol police regiment and kept hostages, was not raided at night. Radio Liberty provided live broadcast from the incident scene throughout the night. The live coverage continues now. There were few ordinary citizens, whom the armed group members expected to joint them. The public figures and politicians arrived on the scene. The reporters and ambulance unit kept vigil.
21:30 (Armenian time) July 17
The Armenian National Security Council (NSC) released another statement saying that the negotiations with the armed group of rebels is ongoing. The NSC has called on the members of the armed group to surrender. The negotiations have not yielded any results so far.
Below are the abstracts from a statement released by the group, Sasna Tsrer, which is still holding hostages:
“For many years, Jirayr Sefilyan and his supporters tried to peacefully change the situation in Armenia. As a result, Jirayr Sefilyan has been falsely accused of committing an armed uprising, and he has been put in prison, while his supporters have been constantly subjected to pressure and violence.
Years of bitter experience have convinced us that by oppressing the people, the ruling regime become so powerless and exhausted that it no longer has the resources for a long-term and peaceful “mass struggle”. Besides this, the number of people leaving the country has reached a catastrophic scale, consistently destroying the last remnants of our opposition. At the same time, Serzh Sargsyan’s treacherous move: ceding the liberated territories of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] in order to maintain his power, will be the final nail in the coffin for our statehood.
Having realized the gravity of the situation, we, the members of the Sasna Tsrer group, have decided to secure the right to a decent life for ourselves and our descendants and, with this in mind, have resorted to an armed uprising.
19.30 (Armenian time) July 17
Negotiations with the armed group are ongoing. Hunan Poghosyan, the Deputy Police Chief, reported that the two wounded police officers were still in critical condition.
16.30 (Armenian time) July 17
“If our appeals are not considered, we are able to counteract them, since murderers are not treated otherwise. We will continue negotiations until we lose the hope of solving the problem through talks, said Hunan Poghosyan, Deputy Police Chief.
He added that there were more wounded policemen than had been reported earlier.
14.30 (Armenian time) July 17
Armenia’s national security service reports one policeman killed and two others wounded in the mutiny.
10.30 (Armenian time) July 17
The Armenian National Security Service released a special statement on July 17, stating that a group of armed men had storme the Erebuni community’s patrol police station and took hostages.
The police blocked the roads leading to the Erebuni district in Yerevan. Both police officers and uprisers have been reported injured.
As Varuzhan Avetisyan, a Founding Parliament member, wrote on his Facebook page this morning, an armed mutiny had begun. He also reported that deputy police chiefs, Vardan Yeghiazaryan and Valery Osipyan, had been taken hostage.
Jirayr Sefilyan, a co-founder of the Founding Parliament, has been arrested on charges of plotting a state coup. His supporters, who initiated the uprising, insist on bringing him out and claim that they only obey his orders.
According to media reports, one member of the armed group claimed their demands were as follows: the release of Jirayr Sefilyan and the resignation of the incumbent President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan.