YEREVAN—As the standoff at a police station seized by an armed group calling itself “Daredevils of Sasoun” entered its fifth day, Armenia’s authorities broke their silence on Thursday calling the situation “worrisome.”
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan said Thursday during a cabinet meeting that authorities are still attempting a peaceful end to the incident and are negotiating with the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” who are holding four people hostage.
Abrahamyan called Sunday’s armed attack, which left one police officer dead and four others wounded, unacceptable.
“What happened at the Patrol Security Service station is condemnable and unacceptable because it’s impossible to achieve real change through violence,” he said. “It’s a dangerous and futile exercise.”
“The situation is extremely worrisome and the authorities are doing and will do everything to achieve its peaceful resolution,” added Abrahamyan.
The prime minister was the first senior government official to publicly comment on the standoff and he did not use the word “terrorist” to describe the gunmen, who are calling for the president’s resignation and the release of a “Founding Parliament” leader, Jirair Sefilian, arrested last month on charges of planning an armed revolt against the government.
President Serzh Sarkisian has not made a public statement on the matter, nor has he made any public appearances since the group affiliated with the opposition “Founding Parliament” seized the police station in the Erebuni district of Yerevan.
Armenia’s Economy Minister Artsvik Minasyan, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia, on Thursday urged the armed group to “immediately” free the remaining four hostages with out condition and surrender to law enforcement bodies.
The ARF was quick to condemn the attack on the police station when the party’s Supreme Council of Armenia chairman Aghavan Vartanyan told Yerkir Media on Sunday, hours after the attack, that the group has sought the wrong and a condemnable method to initiate immediate reforms in the country.
“Radical approaches undermine efforts for quantitative change. Issues will not be resolved through the use of arms, force, hostages or terror,” said Vartanyan.
“It is sad the headlines in the international press about the coup attempt in Turkey will be replaced with events in Armenia. The rest is the responsibility of law enforcement, which in my opinion, up till now, have not done their best,” added Vartanyan.
Since the standoff began, sympathizers of the “Daredevils of Sasoun” began gathering at Khornatsi Street where police have barricades roads leading to the police compound where the hostage situation is underway.
Scores of people were arrested, some brutally, around Yerevan. The arrests compounded the anger of protesters who initially were calling for the crisis to be averted without bloodshed, as well as Sefilian’s release.
Tension between protesters and police escalated Wednesday night into the early hours of Thursday.
Beginning at around 4:30 a.m. local time Thursday, some 20 to 25 protesters were arrested and dragged across the street by law enforcement beyond the riot police barricade in place to bloc access to the seized station, after demonstrators were asked to clear the Khorentasi Street to allow traffic to flow. The arrested demonstrators allegedly did not adhere to police directives.
Despite pleas for calm by higher ranking police officers, some demonstrators were beaten immediately after being taken beyond the police barricade.
Earlier Wednesday evening, at around 10 p.m., police began firing stun grenades into the crowd, as demonstrators that have gathered there since late Sunday, attempted to approach barricade.
Several members of the crowd began throwing stones and bottles at the police, prompting the firing of flares at the direction of the protesters in an effort to disperse the protesters, who retreated but did not vacate the premises.
Police rejected protesters demands to deliver food and water to members of the “Daredevils of Sasoun” who are holding four hostages and are reportedly refusing food provided by the police for fear of being poisoned.
This was the second day of clashes between protesters and police. On Tuesday night, protesters and residents who had gathered at the Sari Tagh section of the Erebuni district, directly above the seized police station clashed with law enforcement when the latter tried to dismantle makeshift barricades set up by area residents to prevent access to the station.
A police statement released on Thursday said a total of 136 protesters were detained overnight. It said many of them were set free later but gave no numbers. Armenia’s Health Ministry said that 45 people were taken to area hospitals for injuries sustained during the clashes. The ministry claimed that 25 were police officers.
Earlier in the day, Armenia’s Investigative Committee said that 16 individuals could be prosecuted on charges of participating in the “mass disturbances.”