Armenia Hostage Crisis Continues


Yerevan3YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Pro-opposition gunmen are holding four police hostage in the Armenian capital Yerevan, officials said Tuesday, July 19, two days after they seized a police building, killing one officer and taking several hostages.

The gunmen seized the police station and hostages on Sunday, killing a police officer and wounding two others in the process before demanding Armenians take to the streets to secure the release of jailed opposition politicians.

They released two hostages on Sunday and three more on Monday, the security service said. Negotiations to end the situation peacefully were under way.

“Talks are underway with the hostage-takers. We are doing our best to resolve the situation without bloodshed,” Armenia’s first deputy police chief Hunan Pogosyan told AFP.

Lines of police in flak jackets and helmets gathered outside the building Tuesday as parked trucks blocked off surrounding streets, an AFP photographer said.

The gunmen, who captured a large arsenal of police weapons, have so far refused to surrender.

They freed four hostages on Sunday and Monday, but were still holding four hostages as of Tuesday morning, Armenia’s national security service said.

The hostages include Armenia’s Deputy Police Chief General Major Vardan Yeghiazaryan and Yerevan Deputy Police Chief Colonel Valeri Osipyan.

Meanwhile, the friends of Colonel Artur Vanoyan, killed during the attack of the police regiment in Yerevan on July 17 by gunmen as well as colleagues and MPs laid him to rest.

Vanoyan, 49, was married and had three children.

The attackers have demanded the resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan and the release of detained opposition leader Jirair Sefilian.

More than 1,500 anti-government protesters rallied in Yerevan on Monday, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Sefilian — the leader of small opposition group the New Armenia Public Salvation Front — and six of his supporters were arrested in June after authorities said they were preparing to seize government buildings and telecoms facilities in Yerevan.

A fierce critic of the government, he was arrested in 2006 over calls for “a violent overthrow of the government” and jailed for 18 months. He was released in 2008.

Last year, Sefilian and several of his supporters were arrested again on suspicion of preparing a coup, but released shortly afterwards.

(Stories from AFP, Reuters, Radio Free Europe and Armenpress were used.)

The hostage-takers’ main demand is to free Jirair Sefilian, an opposition leader whom authorities in the ex-Soviet republic have accused of plotting civil unrest. Sefilian was jailed in June over allegations of illegally possessing weapons.

The security service said talks were deadlocked so far.

“The armed group is refusing to release other hostages, including high-ranking officials, to lay down their weapons, or to surrender,” the National Security Service said in a statement, saying the group posed a direct threat to society.

Protesters marched to the police station seized by the gunmen. Police detained some activists but released them later.

The Armenian government has made a new proposal to gunmen holding four police officers hostage at a police station in Yerevan, a member of their radical opposition group said on Tuesday.

Alek Yenigomshian said he has been acting as a go-between in negotiations held the National Security Service (NSS) and the armed members of the Founding Parliament movement that seized the building on Sunday, killing one senior police officer, wounding several others and taking the hostages.

“Those negotiations continued yesterday and the National Security Service (NSS) submitted a demand-proposal to the ‘Sasna Tsrer’armed group,” Yenighomshian told reporters.

“Yesterday I met with NSS officials, Zhirayr Sefilian [in prison] and members of ‘Sasna Tsrer’ group,” he said. “I gave them the NSS’s demand-proposals, details of which I won’t publicize for now. Those guys said they will respond to it tonight at 7 p.m.”

Both the NSS and the Armenian police have branded the attackers as “terrorists” and demanded their unconditional surrender.

Yenigomshian said that although the gunmen’s mobile phones were no longer reachable on Tuesday morning he received assurances from the NSS that the talks with them will continue. “I’m very happy with that,” he said, speaking on a blocked street leading to the seized police compound.

In a statement issued at 5 p.m., the NSS said law-enforcement officials are continuing “intensive negotiations” with the gunmen in an effort to ensure their surrender and the liberation of the hostages. “Armenian law-enforcement bodies are doing everything to hold the armed group back from further bloodshed,” it said.