Protest rallies erupted in the Armenian capital of Yerevan last week after the death of Artur Sargsyan, who passed away after being on hunger strike for 25 days. Sargsyan was accused of assisting the ‘Daredevils of Sasun’ — an armed group of Karabakh war veterans who stormed a police station in Yerevan in July 2016, taking hostages. Two police officers were killed during the crisis.
According to Caucasian Knot, Sargsyan, dubbed the ‘Bread Bringer’, was accused of breaking through the police cordon around the police station to deliver supplies to the hostage-takers. According to RFE/RL, he was accused of delivering food to ‘armed members of a radical opposition group’ during their two-week standoff with security forces. After this, he remained with the hostage-takers in the building until 31 July.
On 9 February 2017, Sargsyan was imprisoned, after which he went on hunger strike and refused medical help. As a result, his condition deteriorated gradually. The Prosecutor’s Office released Sargsyan on 6 March, bowing to pressure from sections of the public as well as certain members of parliament. On the same day, he was placed in intensive care, where he died on 16 March.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan said on 17 March that he was experiencing ‘deep pain’ about the incident, and that an investigation was underway. Meanwhile, the streets of Yerevan were shaken by protests. A rally in memory of the ‘Bread Bringer’ marched from Liberty Square to the Government building in the capital on 17 March. Participants carried Armenian flags and photos of Sargsyan, and chanted ‘Artur, Artur’.
According to the RFE/RL, some protesters shouted slogans accusing Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan of being responsible for Artur Sargsyan’s death, while others called for the resignation of the justice and health ministers.
Around 2,000 protesters also signed during the march a petition demanding that the authorities bury Sargsyan at the Yerablur Military Pantheon. Yerablur is a military cemetery on a hilltop in the outskirts of the city. Since 1988, Yerablur has been the burial place for Armenian soldiers who have lost their lives during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to reports by Caucasian Knot, no one from the government addressed the demonstrators. Activists made several attempts to block traffic in Republic Square, but police used force to push them from the road. Police actions were coordinated by the deputy head of the Yerevan Police Department, Valeri Osipyan, who ordered that demonstrators not be detained, Caucasian Knot reported.
On 20 March it was announced that Sargsyan’s funeral will be held on 22 March, not at Yerablur, but at Shahumyan Cemetery.
The protests come ahead of parliamentary elections in Armenia on 2 April. Around 10 activists are continuing a sit-in in the capital demanding the resignation of the Minister of Justice.