Police claim medical personnel taken hostage; protests continue

By Asbarez | Thursday, 28 July 2016

YEREVAN—Thousands took to the streets for a third night and marched toward Khorenatsi Street, where the armed group “Daredevils of Sasoun” continue, for the 11th day, to occupy a police compound, in which security officials claimed on Wednesday that the group is holding medical personnel hostage.

Wednesday’s protest followed a day-long turn of events, which aside from the medical personnel’s incident, included arrests of opposition leaders. Thousands gathered at Liberty Square and, through a show of hands, decided to proceed to Khorenatsi Street, where police have barricaded the entrance and have forbidden rallies to take place there.

The medical professionals were dispatched to the compound on Wednesday morning to offer aid to wounded gunmen who were injured earlier in the morning during a shootout with police and security forces surrounding the compound.

One of four medical personnel was released on Wednesday night, as demonstrators began marching from Liberty Square toward Khorentasi Street, the entrance to which has been blocked by police, who have said they will not allow protesters to gather there, the site of rallies since the seizure of the police compound on July 17.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the Amrenian police, Ashot Aharonian, announced that four medical personnel in the compound were not being allowed to leave by members of the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” thus labeling them as hostages.

Armenia’s Health Ministry said that one of the four, Davit Tonoyan, was released after being in the compound for 12 hours, reported Azatutyun.am.

In addition to Tonoyan, who presumably is a paramedic, the group is holding two doctors and a nurse.

Before Tonoyan’s release, one of the doctors holed up at the police compound, Salvador Khechoyan, was allowed to speak to the Armenia TV channel by phone, during which he confirmed that he and his colleagues were being held hostage.

In a statement release earlier Wednesday, Armenia’s National Security Service demanded the immediate release of the medical professionals, urging the “Daredevils” surrender.


Protests, Arrests and Shootouts
Events dominating the news on Wednesday began in the early morning hours when during a shootout between police and the “Daredevils of Sasoun” two of the group’s members, Pavel Manoukyan and his son, Aram, along with a police officer were injured. As they were being rushed to the hospital, two other “Daredevil” members, Gagik Yeghiazaryan and Aram Hakobyan had surrendered to the police or were forcibly removed. Early Tuesday morning, two of the armed group members were similarly injured by police, when they attempted to drive a police SUV through the police barricade in front of the seized compound. On Tuesday hospital officials confirmed that the men identified as Ashot Petrosian and Hovannes Harutiunian received medical treatment.

On Wednesday evening, Pavel Manoukyan was placed under arrest while recovering at the hospital, according to his attorney, Inesa Petrosyan.

The gunfire took place as police began were rounding up demonstrators who had remained on Khorentasi Street, among them Davit Sanasarian and Armen Martiroian, opposition politicians who were visible figures in the protests.

On Wednesday morning, police arrested several sympathizers of the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” whose demands after the seizure of the police compound include the release of opposition leader Jirair Sefilian, who was arrested in June and the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian.

Police continued to arrest protest leaders and supporters on Wednesday morning. Police confirmed that a senior member of the “Founding Parliament” Armen Mikaelian, and a Gyumri-based activist and president of the Asaparez Club Levon Barseghian, were being held on charges of actively supporting the “Daredevils of Sasoun,” who are affiliated with the “Founding Parliament.”

Also arrested on Wednesday was Canadian-Armenian actress Arsinee Khanjian, who was taken into custody after arguing with security forces and demanding that the people’s right to express their opposition be protected.

US Embassy Concerned with Hostage Situation
The US Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday expressed serious concern over reports of medical personnel being taken hostage by the “Daredevils of Sasoun.” The Embassy also urged the gunmen to end the standoff.

“With a particular note of the events of July 26-27, we urge all sides to show maximum restraint, act within the confines of the law, and demonstrate a commitment to the peaceful resolution of the standoff,” said a statement released by the embassy.

“We are especially concerned by media reports today that medical personnel have been detained in the Erebuni Police building,” added the statement.“Such actions are unacceptable, and if true, we call for the immediate and safe release of these individuals.”