YEREVAN (A.W.)—Lebanese-born Armenian military commander and opposition political activist Jirair Sefilian was arrested in Yerevan on June 20 after Armenian authorities said he planned on leading an armed coup against the government. According to a statement released by Armenia’s Investigative Committee, a total of seven men—including Sefilian—were arrested in connection with the planned coup, and a large arsenal of weapons was confiscated.
The statement also said that the group headed by Sefilian planned to seize control of buildings and communications facilities, including Yerevan’s television tower “through armed groups in the framework of which [Sefilian] had organized illegal procurement, transportation of weapons and ammunition, as well as their illegal keeping.”
Following Sefilian’s arrest, his associates told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he was taken into custody shortly after officers began searching the offices of his opposition group, the New Armenia Public Salvation Front. They also said the officers did not find any weapons there, but did confiscate five computers and some documents.
Less than two weeks before his arrest, Sefilian announced plans to set up a new opposition movement called the National Resistance Committee. “We have a treacherous government, and must create an alternative [to it] and take over the function of governing the country with the help of the people and the army as soon as possible,” Sefilian said on June 11, according to Azatutyun.am.
Sefilian, who took part in the defense of the Armenian quarters of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War and participated in the defense of several districts of Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh) during the Artsakh Liberation War, has been previously arrested and charged for the illegal possession of a weapon and served a 1.5-year prison sentence in 2007.
Last year, Sefilian and four others were arrested for the organization of “mass disturbances at public places” but were eventually set free.
On Jan. 31, 2015, police and unidentified men blocked and assaulted around 40 cars led by Sefilian that were traveling from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabagh on the Goris-Stepanakert Highway near Berdzor, preventing them from crossing into Karabagh. The vehicles were carrying members of the group called Founding Parliament (previously known as Pre-Parliament), an opposition group whose aim is regime change in Armenia.
“False information was spread to those in Berdzor that we were armed. In addition to this, they were trying to convince people that the car rally, led by Jirair Sefilyan, was a plot to try to persuade soldiers to no longer serve in Artsakh, to abandon Artsakh and leave it unprotected,” read a statement released by the group. Once their plans to hold the car rally in Karabagh were made public, the group received a number of threats warning that the rally would be blocked, noted the statement.