Armed members of a radical opposition group continue to hold four police officers hostage in the Armenian capital two days after they seized a police station, killing one officer.
General Hunan Poghosian, the first deputy chief of the Armenian national police force, said he still hoped the situation would be resolved peacefully.
“Talks are under way with the hostage takers,” Poghosian told journalists on July 19. “We are doing our best to resolve the situation without bloodshed.”
The remaining hostages reportedly include two senior Armenian police commanders.
Five hostages have been freed since July 17, when the police station in Yerevan’s southeastern Erebuni district was stormed and six people wounded in addition to the slain police colonel.
Poghosian said law-enforcement agencies were not ruling out the use of force as a last resort.
Lines of riot police gathered outside the building on July 19 while trucks blocked access from adjacent streets.
The attackers have demanded the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of the radical opposition movement Founding Parliament, who was arrested last month for allegedly plotting an armed revolt.
Armenia’s Health Ministry says four of those wounded in the initial attack are still hospitalized.
Late on July 18, more than 1,000 antigovernment protesters rallied on Yerevan’s Liberty Square to call for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. A number of protesters wanted to march toward the occupied police station but were stopped by riot police.
They were demanding that police guarantee no force would be used against the dozen or so hostage takers, who apparently are members of a little-known group called Sasna Tsrer, dubbed by some the Daredevils of Sassoun, which is loyal to Sefilian’s Founding Parliament.
Most of Sasna Tsrer members are veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
More than a dozen other people were detained earlier on July 18 when they tried to demonstrate near the seized Erebuni compound, which has been cordoned off by security forces.
The Founding Parliament is particularly critical of the way the government has handled a long-running conflict in Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, territory claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The group frequently stages street protests in Yerevan demanding Sarkisian’s resignation.
Sefilian and six of his supporters were arrested on June 20 after authorities initially said they were preparing a plot to seize several government buildings and telecommunication facilities in Yerevan. He was formally charged with illegal acquisition and possession of weapons.
Sefilian says the case against him is politically motivated.
Just days before his arrest, Sefilian announced plans to set up a new opposition movement called the National Resistance Committee. He said the new movement would try to topple the government “with the help of the people and the army.”
Sefilian was detained in 2006 over calls for “a violent overthrow of the government.” He was released in 2008.
In 2015, Sefilian was arrested again along with several of his supporters on suspicion of preparing a coup but released shortly afterward.
Serzh Sarkisian, a former military officer, has been president of the Caucasus country of 2.9 million since winning a vote in 2008 that followed by clashes between police and opposition supporters in which 10 people died.
Source: 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.