The events of July 2016 will undoubtedly have repercussions for Armenia’s political life for months, if not years, to come. There is still a healthy amount of inquiry into what took place during those important two weeks in Armenia’s modern history and we will continue shedding light on those and related developments in the coming months.
Below we present an open letter from the coordinator of the Founding Parliament, the political wing of the “Daredevils of Sassoon”, a highly decorated Artsakh war veteran and former commander Jirayr Sefilian (arrested by the Sargsyan regime in June), written from prison on the final day of the stand-off. Translated from the original for our English-speaking audience, this letter is critical for understanding the thinking behind the steps taken by the “Daredevils of Sassoon” and the (tactical) objectives they tried to accomplish.
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Since I still have not been given an opportunity to clarify the demands of “Daredevils of Sassoon” directly with them, knowing that the authorities are not taking any rational steps to avoid bloodshed, and realizing the need for people to be informed about the content of negotiations, below I will outline the range of issues around which I think I will be able to persuade the “Daredevils of Sassoon” to lay down their arms.
To do this, I will need to meet with them directly. If the authorities fear that I will not leave the police compound and I too will take up arms, I am ready to provide any guarantees they require. In this tense situation, I have repeatedly stated that I am ready to do everything in my power to help resolve the situation in a peaceful way.
To satisfy the requirements given bellow it is necessary to form a “government of people’s trust”, which cannot come a day too soon. This government shall be mainly engaged in a smooth implementation of the following steps:
- The main objective of the state’s activity in this critical area should be to declare Artsakh an integral part of the Republic of Armenia within pre-April 1, 2016 borders and to achieve its international legal recognition. This is the absolute minimum, which should not ever be reduced.
- Other tactical and strategic steps needed for the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict will be presented subsequently.
Defense and Security Sector
- The approach to active-duty armed forces should be significantly altered in a direction that would require fewer human resources for the defense of borders of Armenia and Artsakh.
- The use of inexperienced young recruits for combat duty should be prohibited. These positions should be filled only on a voluntary basis by (experienced) contractual soldiers. (Single/unmarried) contractual soldiers without children too should be banned from carrying out combat duty.
- All police commanders presently in office should be removed. In addition, the chief of police and all his deputies should be brought before the criminal court for their recent actions.
- The new police chief must be appointed from the outside the (police) system. He and his deputies should not have any connection to the events of March 1-2, 2008 and July 29, 2016. This should send a signal to others that spilling blood of civilians will no longer be tolerated in Armenia and everybody proven guilty for taking part in those activities should be punished by law.
- Police personnel should be substantially replaced. Instead of employing them in de facto mercenary units aimed at fighting own civilian population, personnel of those units should be given an opportunity to sign up for contractual military service (for higher salary) to defend the homeland while maintaining their ranks.
Sovereignty and border defence
- Negotiations on transferring the control of Armenia’s boarders from Russian to Armenian border troops should start immediately. The fate of the remainder of Russian armed forces in Armenia can be negotiated in the future. Armenia’s borders should only be controlled by Armenia’s armed forces and intelligence services.
- The Russian border guards should transfer the resources allocated to them for the control of Armenia’s borders, including the intelligence and counterintelligence networks, to the Armenian side, to the extent possible.
- All political prisoners—including Haik Kyureghyan, Shant Harutyunyan, Volodya Avetisyan, Gevorg Safaryan, and others—should be released.
- All individuals detained during the latest events (in connection with rallies organized in support of “Daredevils of Sassoon”) should be released and free and fair trials should be started.
- All persecution and harassment in connection with recent events should be stopped.
- Apart from the issue of political prisoners, taking into account widespread violations in the judicial system, the states should consider initiating a broad amnesty. The conditional early release from prison of those serving life sentences should be made possible, if it corresponds to the standards required by the law.
- First and foremost, the lists of citizens who voted in elections should be made public. This will serve as a certificate of legitimacy, which no government in Armenia since 1996 has had. No individual or a group has the right to claim power in the country without this certificate. Claiming power without this certificate is tantamount to usurping it, which is what we have been witnessing for the past twenty years.
- All members of judicial, executive, and legislative branches, who have had any involvement in illegal use of force against civilians on March 1-2, 2008 and July 29, 2016 as well as subsequent political persecutions should be irreversibly removed from service. If their actions were obtained under threat or pressure, the details of that should be made public, clarifying those circumstances, mentioning names of individuals involved, and providing other relevant information as well as offering a public apology for the wrongdoings;
- A committee with a mandate to examine all cases involving takeover of private property by the government “for the needs of the state” (e.g., Northern and Main Avenues, Lori and Syunik regions, etc.) should be formed. The committee should provide recommendations on measures to restore justice.
Environment and social issues
- Embezzlement of Armenia’s natural resources and nature must be stopped. The natural resources should be used carefully and exclusively for the state interests, excluding illegal use and with the strictest control by public agencies and civil society.
- The government and the Central Bank should initiate activities aimed at easing the debt burden of poorest highly-indebted households.
- Achieve a reduction of electricity and gas tariffs by increasing the efficiency of resource use. In these areas, the government should immediately resume negotiations to restore Armenia’s shares in major distribution entities, taking into account its legal obligations.
- Small businesses should be exempt from direct taxation.
- Medium-sized business should be exempt from direct taxation up to two years.
- Monopolies must be eliminated, except for those that are of strategic importance to be determined by the National Assembly. These monopolies should be state-owned and regulated.
- Tax and customs administration must be carried out exclusively by the bodies under the public and civil control, strictly preserving equality, legality, and transparency in their approach.
The enforcement of these requirements is an issue of national security. These demands are an outcome of my detailed discussions with members of the “Daredevils of Sassoon”, and I am sure we share a common view on these. For years, different players within civil society too have presented similar demands, but they remained ignored and neglected.
These demands have been presented to the government in the interest of the Armenian State. The failure to follow, delay the application of these measures, or worse an imitation of their application, will eventually lead to the destruction of the state, turning it into an entity governed by ignorance and arrogance.
I call on our people and political parties to take these demands and make them their own. By doing so, they will form a legitimate process of putting these demands forth and help dismiss accusations that it is being done by the use of arms.
July 31, 2016