Armenia’s NSS Issues Ultimatum to “Daredevils of Sasoun”
YEREVAN—A day after protests in the Erebuni district turned violent when police began firing rubber bullets, flairs and physically beat citizens, the use of brutal force against citizens was condemned by the US Ambassador in Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia.
Armenia’s National Security Service gave the group that since July 17 has seized a police compound a deadline to surrender.
Friday became the most of violent day of protests, which began soon after the “Daredevils” seized the compound, demanding the release of “Founding Parliament” leader Jirair Sefilian and the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian.
Gunfire and explosions were heard from inside the compound on Friday night, as hundreds of protesters were gathered above the building in the Sari Tagh neighborhood. The protesters and journalists were attacked by the police, which deployed plain-clothed officers to beat and arrest citizens, causing pandemonium. Dozens of injured protesters flocked to hospitals around Yerevan.
The United States Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills on Saturday criticized the Armenian police and condemned the use of excessive force against protesters and journalists
“All of that was very troubling but it’s particularly troubling, when journalists are targeted for excessive violence,” Mills told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I’m very, very concerned about what happened last night.”
“I also came to RFE/RL [bureau in Yerevan] today to meet with the team here … to express my support for what they’re doing and my hope that tonight, throughout the weekend and the coming days as this situation continues there will be restraint on the part of government authorities and everyone who is exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” he said.
“We urge the Armenian government to take immediate steps to prevent a repeat of last night’s actions and to direct the Armenian security forces to maintain order in a manner that upholds all Armenian citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly,” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said in a separate statement.
“At the same time, we also urge protestors to responsibly exercise their freedom of assembly by exercising restraint, eschewing violence, and avoiding the active standoff at Erebuni police building,” it said.
Mills also called for a “full investigation” into Friday’s violence. He warned that Armenian law-enforcement officials responsible for human rights abuses could be sanctioned by the U.S. government.
“We have mechanisms in place to ensure that those who might have been involved or responsible for excessive violence last night, as determined by investigations and credible reports, are not allowed to participate in any U.S. government funding program or training,” the diplomat said. “And we will ensure that that happens,” reported RFE/RL
On Saturday, the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia also condemned the violence and called for the punishment of its perpetrators.
“We strongly condemn the incident and consider it necessary to immediately punish the perpetrators,” read a part of the statement, which called for a complete end to the violence and to new clashes. “We should abandon the principle that the end justifies the means,” another part the statement read.
The ARF Supreme council also said that the police used disproportionate force against peaceful citizens. “In certain cases, the police used disproportionate force not only against citizens participating in the demonstration, but also against those who had no connection with the rally, as well as against journalists who were carrying out their work. Unfortunately, some district authorities and criminal elements have also incited violence against the protesters,” read a part of the statement.
The ARF also called for a peaceful resolution of the current situation and urged the armed group occupying the Yerevan police station and their supporters to avoid extreme measures and “illegal methods of struggle.”
“It is evident that the greater public is unhappy with the country’s current state and convincing steps must be taken in order to radically change the situation. In order to ensure a peaceful settlement, the members of the armed group, their supporters, and the organizers of the demonstrations must give up unrealistic demands, illegal methods of struggle, and extreme measures,” said the statement.
Friday’s violence did not deter citizens to continue their protests. On Saturday evening protesters gathered at Liberty (Opera) Square for a rally and marched to nearby Baghramyan Avenue, the site of Armenia’s President Palace. There the protesters staged a sit in, as police formed a human and barbed-wire barricade in front of the Constitutional Court building.
The protest was generally peaceful and demonstrators dispersed shortly after 12:30 a.m. One protester attempted to set himself of fire, which was put out by nearby demonstrators. He was taken to the hospital in a taxi after refusing to sit in a police car, which arrived at the scene shortly after the incident.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the police announced that one of its own, 30-year-old Yuri Tepanosyan, was killed by sniper fire, which allegedly came from the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” the armed group occupying the police compound.
Police spokesperson Ashot Aharonyan said Tepanosyan was shot as he sat in parked police car “350-400 meters” from the compound.
Tepanosyan served in the national police service as a warrant officer in the interior troop. He had three children, according a police statement.
On the first day of the standoff, one police officer, Colonel Artur Vanoyan, was killed and four others wounded when the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” who are affiliated with the opposition “Founding Parliament,” carried out their operation to seize the compound.
Aharonyan, the police spokesperson, reported Tepanosyan’s death about two hours after the NSS ultimatum to the “Daredevils” had expired. Earlier Saturday, the NSS gave the group until 5 p.m. to surrender to security forces or face massive rebuke. Around 6 p.m. gunshots were reported on a blocked street leading to the police compound.
“Special units of law-enforcement bodies will be authorized to open fire and neutralize, without prior warning, any armed person in and outside the [seized] police regiment,” said the NSS statement, which was issued at 4 p.m.
The NSS cited intensive gunfire late on Friday as the reason for the ultimatum, alleging that the “Daredevils” opened fire on police and security units in the compound. The NSS also claimed that several police officers were wounded before the security forces retaliated.
“After what happened on the evening of July 29, all real possibilities of reaching a peaceful resolution of the situation with the terrorists have been exhausted,” the NSS said, adding that use of force against them has become “absolutely necessary” in these circumstances.
The NSS also emphasized the need to release the medical personnel that have been kept inside the compound since Wednesday when four medical professionals were dispatched to the site to tend to members of the group who were wounded during gunfire early that morning. One paramedic was released on Thursday. Another doctor, Salvador Khetchoyan, also left the compound on Saturday, when he escorted two wounded “Daredevil” members to the hospital.