YEREVAN—As thousands marched across the capital on Monday in support of regime change and “Daredevils of Sasoun,” the armed group that for nine days has been occupying a main police compound, Armenia’s National Security Service said if ‘Daredevils’ members surrender they might avoid imprisonment. The lead negotiator of the crisis also hinted that President Serzh Sarkisian would be amenable to meet with jailed opposition leader Jirair Sefilian if the “Daredevils” surrender.
The peaceful demonstration saw thousands march from Khorentasi Street, the site of daily protests since the standoff began on July 17, through the streets of Yerevan circling back to their starting point. The protesters were chanting slogans in support of the “Daredevils of Sasoun” and its leaders, as well as calls for peaceful regime change.
On Saturday, the group released the remaining four hostages but in a rare press appearance vowed to continue its occupation on the police compound, with Sarkisian urging law enforcement to not use force against the group.
However, on Sunday, the authorities were accused of heightening the tensions by allegedly cutting off cell phone connection, electricity and food supplies to the group inside the seized police compound, prompting the “Daredevils” to burn a police van on Sunday night leading into Monday morning.
Meanwhile the clemency offer outlined by the NSS, as well as Sarkisian reported willingness to meet with the imprisoned Sefilian, whose release is the main demand by the group, are all contingent on the “Daredevils’” surrender.
The retired Karabakh Army General Vitaly Balasanyan, who has been negotiating with the armed group claimed that while Sefilian was no longer calling for Sarksian’s resignation, the latter would meet with him to explain “the reality.”
“[Sarkisian] has expressed readiness to invite Zhirair Sefilian and explain to him the reality and prospects immediately after the guys lay down arms and surrender,” Balasanyan said in a statement Sunday that was cited by the Armenpress news agency.
The NSS on Monday said that it would be up to Armenia’s legislature to decide on the clemency measures for the “Daredevils.”
“In case of the existence of conditions defined by Armenian legislation, individuals voluntarily backing away from a crime can be exempted from criminal liability,” the NSS said according to Azatutyun.am.
“In this regard, the militants were handed on July 25 written clarifications and explanations on the sequence of actions which must be taken by them and the route for their surrender,” it added in a statement.
The NSS note delivered to the gunmen was publicized by the Armenian police. It lists articles of the Armenian Criminal Code that allow individuals taking hostages or seizing government buildings to avoid prosecution.
“You still have time to lay down your arms and surrender,” says the document.
The NSS did not specify whether the authorities would also not prosecute anyone in connection with the killing of a senior police officer carried out during the July 17 attack on the police station. A leader of the gunmen has claimed that Colonel Artur Vanoyan was shot dead “by accident.”