Mass Demonstrations in Yerevan Turn Violent as Protests Battle Security Forces

YEREVAN - The situation in Armenia radically escalated Thursday as demonstrators who support an armed group occupying a Yerevan police department since July 17, again took to the streets of the Armenian capital to show solidarity with the leaders of the militant group.

As the protests have steadily grown larger with each passing day, the country’s police and security services have come down hard on the protestors, detaining or arresting dozens of the activists, including noted opposition journalists Levon Barseghyan and Alek Yenigomshyan.

Pavlik Manukyan - the leader of the gunmen and a well-known Nagorno-Karabakh War commander - was wounded and taken to hospital after a shootout with police late Monday night.

Monday’s battle appears to have galvanized the anti-government activists, as the number of protestors on the street continues to grow.

Still holed up in the Erebuni district police station, the remaining gunmen were to be given free access to the media as part of the agreement that saw several of the hostages released earlier in the week. The police, however, appear to have stopped the negotiations and reneged on the previous deal.

In addition to denying the militants access to the press, the police have stopped food deliveries to the compound where the gunmen are housed. Electricity and phone connections have also been cut to isolate the group – which consists of members of a radical fringe faction of the Founding Parliament movement.

The group has called on Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to step down and the party’s founder, Zhirayr Sefilyan, to be released from prison.

The group took a group of doctors hostage after they arrived at the police station to treat some of those wounded in the ongoing gun battles between the militant group and the police.

The US embassy in Yerevan released a statement regarding the hostage crisis saying, “We are especially concerned by media reports today that medical personnel have been detained in the Erebuni Police building. These sorts of actions are unacceptable. If they prove to be true, we call for the immediate and unconditional safe release of these individuals.”

By Karen Tovmasyan

Edited by Nicholas Waller

Photo: EPA

29 July 2016 20:30