YEREVAN—As the gunmen occupying a police station released three hostages, a crowd of supporters gathered at Liberty Square (Opera) voicing their demands for the release of hundreds of opposition activists they claim have been arrested since the standoff began early Sunday morning.
According to a report by Azatutyun.am, Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) said one of the freed individuals is a police officer while the other an ambulance driver. Their release was the result of continuing negotiations, said the two law-enforcement agencies.
General Hunan Poghosian, the first deputy chief of the national police, told reporters that five other policemen are still being held hostage inside the building that was seized on Sunday morning by a dozen or so armed men affiliated with a radical opposition group.
Another policeman was set free later in the day, according to the NSS. The latter also said that the hostage takers and the officers held by them have been provided with food and medication.
Among the remaining hostages were General Vartan Yeghiazarian, another deputy police chief, and Colonel Valeri Osipian, a deputy head of Yerevan’s police department. Another police colonel, Artur Vanoyan, was killed when the gunmen stormed the police compound located in the city’s southern Erebuni district.
Meanwhile, organizers of the rally at Liberty Square are claiming police brutality and unwarranted arrest of citizens. According to Azatutyun.am’s Armenian Service, the activists attempted to cross to Northern Avenue but were met with a police barricade, forcing them to retreat back to Liberty Square.
Poghosian appeared on the site, after which the tensions deescalated since he released two people who were arrested and vowed to release others. The protesters began gathering names of those they believed were taken into custody to present to law enforcement.
The standoff with the gunmen affiliated with the opposition “Founding Parliament” who have seized the police headquarters in the Erebuni district continued into the second day as as law enforcement continued to deploy negotiations for the release of the remaining hostages.
Throughout Sunday, scores of demonstrator were arrested across the city and those with affiliations with the “Founding Parliament” were also detained across the country.
At around 2:30 a.m. local time, Armenia’s Human Defender’s office, which has been negotiating with law enforcement throughout the day over the opposition arrests, announced that at least 50 people have been released from custody.
The HRD spokesperson Zohrab Yeganyan in a statement announced that among the 50 released detainees were opposition figures Andreas Ghoukasyan, Davit Sanasaryan and Shahen Haurtunyan, reported Azatutyun.am Armenian Service.
First deputy chief of the Armenian police, General Hunan Poghosian, said in a statement to reporters earlier Sunday evening that negotiations will continue with the gunmen, who are holding several people hostage inside the building. He also identified Colonel Artur Vanoyan as the one person killed during the raid earlier this morning. He also released the names of three officers who had been critically injured: General Aram Hovhannisyan, Deputy General Hratch Khosdeghyan and Lieutenant Gagik Mkrtchyan.
According to Poghosian, two of the injured officers are in grave condition. He also confirmed that one of the shot officers is the police department’s cameraman.
Poghosian also confirmed that Deputy Police Chief Valery Osipyan is among the hostages. Osipyan became the public face of the authorities last year during an almost two-week standoff at the presidential palace where demonstrators were demanding the decrease of energy prices and became known as the Electric Yerevan movement.
The gunmen, whose demands for the release of one the “Founding Parliament” members, Jirair Sefilian, from jail has been rejected by authorities, are reportedly in negotiations with the police.
“Negotiations are underway with them right now,” Poghosian told reporters near the police building controlled by the gunmen. “The police and other law-enforcement bodies are continuing to urge them to back away from their criminal plans and to surrender themselves to the authorities.”
Poghosian added: “We will continue to negotiate as long as we have hopes to resolve this situation through negotiations.”
Few responded to pleas from the gunmen to gather at various parts of the city and join their movement, while reportedly dozens of people affiliated with the “Founding Parliament” were arrested across Armenia.
“The entire law-enforcement system … will take necessary preventive and operational measures if our appeals go unheeded,” warned Poghosian. “We are capable of neutralizing them. There is no other way to deal with murderers.”
Soon after the seizure of the police headquarters, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia Chairman Aghvan Vartanyan told Yerkir Media 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.
The NSS issued an announcement earlier confirming the incursion, adding that law enforcement is working to stabilize the situation and all aspects of the country’s security infrastructure are working in their normal capacity.
“This morning, a group of armed attackers stormed an Armenian police patrol regiment headquarters, and they are holding people hostage there at gunpoint,” reads the statement.
“At the moment, we’re carrying out negotiations with the armed group to ensure their peaceful surrender to the authorities,” the statement continued, adding that supporters of the attackers have been spreading false information about “an armed rebellion” through social media.
“This information being disseminated does not correspond to the truth. State government bodies are working in standard operating mode, and law enforcement authorities are conducting activities to ensure public order and state security,” added the statement.
Azatutyun.am said that local residents around the seized building reported gun fire and explosions at around 5 a.m. local time.
Residents in the surrounding streets were ordered to evacuate at around 12:30 p.m. local time.