On July 17, 2016 at approximately 5:30 a.m., a group of armed men take over a police station in Yerevan, killing a police officer and taking several others hostage.
They call themselves the Daredevils of Sassoun after an 8th century Armenian epic poem. Most are veterans of the Karabakh War (1991-1994).
The demands of the gunmen include the release of Jirayr Sefilian, leader of the radical opposition Founding Parliament and Karabakh war veteran; the resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan and the immediate halt of any potential talks ceding territory from the liberated territories of NKR to Azerbaijan.
Sefilyan had been arrested a month earlier, on June 20, for allegedly planning an armed insurrection.
Deputy Police Chief of Armenia, Vartan Yeghiazaryan and Deputy Police Chief of Yerevan, Valeri Osipyan are also taken hostage after they arrive to conduct negotiations with the armed men.
On July 19, police and residents of Sari Tagh, a neighborhood located adjacent to the Erebuni police station have a confrontation with police over suspended utilities in their neighborhood. Some police officers sustain minor injuries, dozens are arrested; nine men from the neighborhood continue to remain in pre-trial detention awaiting the conclusion of the investigation.
Every evening, thousands gather near the Erebuni compound in a show of support to the armed men. Initially, Alec Yenikomshian, a member of Founding Parliament and others tries to lead the ‘movement.’ Then Member of Parliament Nikol Pashinyan, tries to take the leadership of the growing crowds and attempts to negotiate with the Sasna Tsrer and security forces.
By July 23, all hostages are released as part of a deal with security forces to allow media into the compound. About 40 media representatives are to be taken to a neutral zone near the police station; as per the original agreement, they are not however allowed to live broadcast the news conference with the men for most of their time there.
On July 25, the Daredevils set fire to a police vehicle inside the compound; it is the third vehicle burned in as many days.
On July 27, four medics enter the compound to treat one of the armed men – Araik Handoyan – who was wounded in the leg during a brief shoot-out with police. The medical personnel are held hostage; one of the paramedics, David Tonoyan and Dr. Salvador Khechoyan are released the same evening; the other two (Dr. Norayr Tevanyan and nurse Marina Margaryan) are kept inside the compound.
On the evening of July 29, the largest of the protests move toward Sari Tagh, to get closer to the compound. Security forces, riot police use excessive force against protesters and target journalists covering the event. Over 160 protesters are arrested this night alone, 26 are officially charged. Dozens are injured and taken to hospital, including several media representatives.
A police officer sitting in a police car about 1000 feet away from the police station on July 30 is killed by a sniper – security forces say that the shot came from the direction of the compound, purportedly by one of the Sasna Tsrer; they release an image taken from a video of one of the armed men positioned on a roof. The Sasna Tsrer deny this.
The following day, the remaining medical personnel – Dr. Norayr Tevanyan and nurse Malina Margaryan – are released.
On July 31, sounds of loud explosions rock the city. Later that day, one of the Sasna Tsrer, Varuzhan Avetisyan announces that they will lay down their weapons and surrender to security forces to avoid bloodshed. By 9 p.m., the National Security Service announces that all members of the Sasna Tsrer are in custody. A statement by the NSS reads: “Armenia security forces have forced the members of the armed group to lay down their weapons and surrender. Twenty terrorists are detained; the territory of the police station is freed from terrorists.”
At the end of the two-week siege, three police officers are dead, the members of the Sasna Tsrer are behind bars, and a country is left polarized.
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