“This is new Armenia, and everyone’s equal and free here,” members of the "Daredevils of Sasun” say as they show journalists around the occupied police headquarters which, along with the surrounding area, is cordoned off from public by police forces. Earlier on Saturday, the gunmen released the four remaining hostages after authorities agreed to arrange a meeting with media representatives on the occupied territory.
The “daredevils” say they know there are snipers everywhere around the seized building, but “that does not discourage us,” they insist. “We have snipers, too, and they sometimes communicate with one another through gestures,” Vardan Geravetyan, a long-time activist for civil rights, tells reporters.
Geravetyan has been fighting for years to ensure that dozens of residents of apartment buildings on several central Yerevan streets are not unlawfully deprived of their apartments. Most of these people, including Geravetyan himself, are currently fighting lawsuits against a development company which intends to dismantle their buildings as part of a hotel construction plan.
“We were left with no other choice. I’ve been fighting for years for justice and for my rights, but nothing changes. We’ve tried every legal means, but to no avail: they set our cars on fire, beat up our friends and relatives, and the so-called president insists on keeping silent. When a person’s rights are violated, he has to do whatever it takes to stand up for himself. My biggest request is that police officers do not sacrifice themselves, because we are indeed ready to sacrifice our lives for our nation’s freedom, but they will only sacrifice theirs for lowlife Serzhik and his wolf pack,” the gunman states.
Geravetyan continues that he has always known he would sooner or later resort to such measures; “People kept telling us it was impossible, but we proved everyone wrong. It only takes a hundred or so people to carry out such a serious operation. Those who decide to join us will be given weapons, and we will continue our rebellion together.”
Food scarcity is one of the group’s main problems. Several days ago the group announced that authorities had stopped sending them food and cigarettes, which resulted in outraged demonstrators clashing with police in an attempt to get some food to the gunmen. Nagorno-Karabakh parliament MP Vitaly Balasanyan, who has been called in to act as a mediator between the armed group and the authorities, subsequently assured the protesters that he had personally passed the gunmen food and that he would from now ensure that they were not left hungry.
“That’s not quite true! We are given some bread and some canned meat; that’s not actual food. As for cigarettes, we don’t get those at all. But we don’t care; we don’t feel hunger; we don’t think about food here,” gunman Ashot Petrosyan, a professional artist, insists.
One of the seniors of the group, Pavlik Manukyan, has brought his son along to the siege and he claims that he does not regret doing so; “I would have disrespected him otherwise. As for my wife – she gets it; she is the real hero here. I want the best for my son, and there's nothing better than sacrificing your life for your country.”
“[National police head] Vova Gasparyan threatens with to storm the building,- Manukyan goes on,- I’d love to see him try. I feel bad for those young police officers; they are my sons, I could never bring myself to shoot them. If it weren’t for them, I’d have personally ensured our victory within half an hour.”
Sedrak Nazaryan moved to Barcelona eight years ago to work as a masseur. He says that he came back to Armenia in April, 2015, specifically for taking part in this operation; he intends to stand by his comrades “until the end.”
Arayik Khandoyan, for his part, claims that the group had wanted all along to avoid bloodshed, but the fallen colonel, Artur Vanoyan, “left us no choice; he wouldn’t stop shooting at us.”
“We did not intentionally open fire towards their people and we asked them to stop shooting too. I’m sure he was a good guy and I regret that he had to die.”
At the end of the meeting, the “Daredevils of Sasun” ask reporters to leave behind all their cigarettes. “Please people, leave us your cigarettes before you go; we are not provided with any,” Ashot Petrosyan, the artist, pleads, leaving non-smokers regretting not having any on them.
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