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Gunmen Release Four Remaining Police Hostages In Yerevan

  • RFE/RL's Armenian Service

One of the opposition gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.

One of the opposition gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.

All four police officers held by gunmen in a police station in Armenia’s capital Yerevan were released on July 23 after a week-long hostage standoff with authorities.

Senior military officer Vitaly Balasanyan, who was acting as a negotiator, said the two remaining police officers were released by the gunmen in exchange for an opportunity to talk to the press. Two police officers had been released earlier on July 23.

The gunmen are linked to the radical opposition movement Founding Parliament.

Explainer: What Is Armenia's 'Founding Parliament' Movement?

Varuzhan Avetisian, a spokesman for Founding Parliament, told RFE/RL that the gunmen have no intention of laying down their weapons until their demands are met.

The gunmen’s demands include the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of Founding Parliament.

Avetisian added that the gunmen, who seized the Erebuni police station on July 17, were prepared for a possible raid by Armenian security forces.

'We Will Never Allow That'

Sarkisian on July 22 urged the gunmen to release all the hostages and surrender.

“In Armenia, issues will not be solved through violence or hostage taking. We will never allow that,” Sarkisian said in his first public comments since the seizure.

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.

One policeman was killed in the July 17 assault.

About 3,000 supporters of the gunmen gathered near the police station late on July 22.

The gunmen 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.

The Founding Parliament is sharply critical of the way the government has dealt with the long-running conflict in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim.

The group frequently stages street protests in Yerevan demanding Sarkisian's resignation.