Standoff in Yerevan Ends as Gunmen Surrender

YEREVAN – A 15-day standoff in Yerevan between Armenian security officials a group of gunmen associated with a radical fringe of the opposition Founding Parliament movement, during which two policemen were killed, and more than a dozen other people were wounded came to an early Monday.

The gunmen surrendered to police a day after an ultimatum issued by law enforcement officials had passed.

The National Security Service said the gunmen who had been taken into custody would be charged, terrorists. According to a press statement from the National Security Service, a total of 47 people has been arrested in connection to the gunmen's take over of a Yerevan police station.

The group demanded the immediate resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan and the release of the party's imprisoned leader, Zhirayr Sefilyan.

The members of the militant group said they surrendered to avoid further bloodshed, but vowed to continue pursuing their demands with other members of Armenia’s civil society.

Mass protests in support of the gunmen were still ongoing at the time of their surrender. Despite several attempts by the police to crack down on the demonstrators, the size of the gatherings increased over the span of the two-week standoff.

The OSCE, EU and US sharply criticized the government’s use of excessive force against the demonstrators and the targeted attacks on journalists by security officials. The US’ Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills went so far as to threaten sanctions against those responsible for attacks against reporters and activists.

In a published letter addressed to Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandyan, OSCE Freedom of the Media representative Dunja Mijatovic strongly condemned the attacks on journalists and called for guaranteeing the safety and protection of journalists and protestors.

Sargsyan om Monday responded to the mounting criticism of th authorities' handling of the situation by publicly apologizing for the attacks on reporters.

He later urged journalists working in Armenia to continue their independent reporting, saying he wanted them to “overlook the attacks as isolated incidents”.

In his speech, Sargsyan called on Armenia’s official and civil societies to work together to help expedite radical reform in the country.

“A full analysis of these events will take a long time. However, one thing is clear: the process for radical changes in Armenia’s social and political life must be expedited. First of all, we must end this disastrous tendency to solve problems through violence.”

By Karen Tovmasyan

Edited by Nicholas Waller

Photo: Armenpress

02 August 2016 12:35