Peaceful Demonstration in Yerevan, an Offer of Clemency, and the Stalemate Continues

As thousands marched across Yerevan on Monday, July 25, 2016, in support of regime change and the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” the armed group that for nine days has been occupying a main police compound, Armenia’s National Security Service said if the members of the group 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 Khorenatsi 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 July 23 the group released the remaining four hostages but in a rare press appearance vowed to continue its occupation of the police compound, with Sarkisian urging law enforcement to not use force against the group.
However, on Sunday, July 24, the authorities appeared to have stepped up pressure on the gunmen following the release of the hostages, reportedly reportedly halting food and electricity supplies to them and blocking access to their mobile phones. As a result, the standoff escalated on the night from Sunday to Monday, with the “Daredevils” setting fire to a police van commandeered by them. A military helicopter briefly hovered over the seized police premises early in the morning.
Alec Yenikomshian, a Founding Parliament figure, said the vehicle was burned down in protest against the blockade imposed by the authorities. He said that the authorities have also stopped providing medical assistance to one of the gunmen wounded during the July 17 assault.
The NSS statement insisted, however, that the authorities offered to hospitalize the man but were rebuffed by the armed group. The security agency also said it has arrested several more individuals suspected of aiding the gunmen. It did not name any of them or specify the total number of people detained in connection with the armed attack.
Speaking to journalists on Monday morning, Yenikomshian accused the authorities of deliberately heightening tensions. “Serious developments may occur at any moment,” he warned. “We hope that prudence will prevail within the ruling regime.”
Yenikomshian is one of several members of an opposition “coordinating council” holding daily demonstrations in support of what Founding Parliament calls an anti-government “rebellion.”
Meanwhile, the clemency offer outlined by the NSS, as well as Sarkisian's reported willingness to meet with the imprisoned Sefilian, whose release is the main demand by the group, are all contingent on the “Daredevils’” surrender.
Retired Karabagh Army General Vitaly Balasanyan, who has been negotiating with the armed group, claimed that while Sefilian was no longer calling for Sarkisian’s resignation, the latter would meet with him to explain “the reality.”
“[Sarkisian] has expressed readiness to invite Jirair 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 talks resulted in the release on Saturday of four police officers held hostage by the attackers. The latter refused to negotiate with Balasanyan after his claim that Sefilian no longer demands Sarkisian’s resignation.The NSS said at the same time that it is seeking to resume negotiations with the armed members.
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.”

"Asbarez," July 25, 2016
"Azadutyun" (azadutyun.am), July 25, 2016 

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