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    “Soft revolution” in Armenia: A Historical Day for Democracy, Justice and National Unity

    Diana Yayloyan25 April 2018 - Okunma Sayısı: 1634

    For the past week, Armenia’s capital Yerevan has been witnessing unprecedented demonstrations. Thousands of people are taking to the streets in protest against the reelection of former president Serzh Sargsyan - it is important to make a note that "former president Sargsyan was elected for prime-minister post". The demonstrations started on April 13, in opposition to Sargsyan’s nomination for prime minister, and gained momentum when on April 17, he was elected Armenia’s prime minister based on the 77 Parliament votes with no abstentions.

    In 2015, Serzh Sargsyan initiated constitutional amendments, changing the form of the political governance from presidential to parliamentary, thus securing his own power shift from president to parliament, where the ruling Republican party with its coalition partner Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Dashnaktsutsiun Party) holds a majority. When opposition leaders accused Sargsyan of instituting the reforms in order to secure his own position at the top, he denied any intention of doing so. In March however, Sargsyan made a U-turn, openly positioning himself as a potential candidate for prime minister seat. Replying to the accusations of the opposition in breaking the pledge, Sargsyan said that his statements were  “taken out of context” and that “in a parliamentary republic, the leader of the ruling party should also serve as prime minister”.[1] It is important to note, that in his response to the open letter of the Luys Foundation[2] graduates, who were “calling on him to honor his word, and resign from the premiership and not hinder Armenia’s democratization”. Sargsyan justified the necessity of taking the post with the geopolitical challenges and national security of Armenia, “continuing efforts towards a dignified settlement of the Karabakh issue”,[3]

    The perspective of Serzh Sargsyan ruling the country for a third term led to a current large-scale protests in Yerevan and to smaller ones in other regions. There is a widespread belief in Armenia that Serzh Sargsyan failed to implement the necessary reforms[4], including on the crucial issues relating to the economy and the rule of law. The enduring poverty and corruption, migration outflow, declining social justice and lack of transparency in Armenian politics has also exacerbated this frustration, resulting in the civil disobedience.

    The oppositional “Civil Contract Party”, headed by MP Nikol Pashinyan, “Reject Serzh” and “For the Sake of the Armenian State” civil society groups are at the head of the protest movement. The official election of Sargsyan for the position of prime minister did not scale down the demonstrations, but rather led it to take a new form, which Nikol Pashinyan described as “launching of a velvet [revolution], a peaceful people's revolution... "A revolutionary situation is brewing across the country. Demonstrators are blocking streets and... highways in the cities of Gyumri, Ijevan, Vanadzor, Kapan, and Metsamor," he added. “People are not going to work, mass strikes have begun[5]... The velvet revolution has to start from villages and towns in Armenia”[6].

    Throughout the week the tense situation has continued. Demonstrators have been blocking the central streets and bridges in Yerevan. On Monday, 46 protesters[7]  and 6 policemen[8] sustained injuries in clashes and were taken to the hospital. Local media reported about several citizens being detained by the police. As of April 20, their number has reached 100 people.[9]

    The U.S. Embassy in Armenia made a statement urging both sides “to exercise restraint and avoid violence”.[10] Human Rights Watch called upon the Armenian authorities “to refrain from the use of force against demonstrators”, noting that in the past few years, police have repeatedly used violent force in Yerevan, mainly to disperse peaceful rallies[11]. The Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw, urged the authorities in Armenia “to protect and ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country... The authorities must make certain that any measures to ensure public security are lawful, necessary and proportionate, and are not aimed at muting dissenting opinions”.[12] The spokesman of Russian President Vladimir Putin has also commented on the unfolding protests in Armenia, saying that they are “watching the events that are unfolding in Armenia and - most importantly - hoping that everything will be within the legal framework."[13]

    Several Armenian celebrities from the diaspora joined their voices in people’s protest, urging Serzh Sargsyan to respect the voices of Armenian citizens. Diaspora Armenians joined the protests in Armenia, organizing demonstrations against the Armenian embassies in abroad. The Armenian diaspora has significant influence in the country, often through philanthropic organizations and otherwise large donations. It seems that many in the diaspora view these protests as an opportunity for the development of liberal politics in the country.

    As the clashes between police and protesters increase, and more citizens are being arrested, the newly appointed president of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian (who is not related to Serzh Sargsyan), has urged the sides to start dialogue: “As a leader of the country, I'm calling on the sides to hold a dialogue in order to find the best solution in the current situation."[14] The Armenian Revolutionary Federation also issued statement to the protesters “to try to jointly find solutions that would end continuing anti-government protests in the country”.[15]

    In his recent interview to the TV channel, Serzh Sargsyan has promised to reduce income tax and increase pensions and minimum wages starting in January 2019. He made the case that, considering all challenges that had been faced by different Armenian authorities throughout last 26 years, Armenia could present satisfactory development.[16]

    Few days later, Nikol Pashinyan has announced the conditions of ending the demonstrations such as Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation; election of “people's candidate” as prime-minister by Parliament; establishment of transition government, and in forty days new elections to be held in case if parliament does not accept this government's plan. The president Armen Sarkissian made an unexpected move appearing among thousands of protesters in the Republic Square to negotiate with Pashinyan, who was continuously repeating that he will meet with Serzh Sargsyan only in order to discuss the conditions of Sargsyan’s resignation. On April 22, under the large media coverage, Sargsyan-Pashinyan meeting did not live up to expectations of demonstrators: Sargsyan refused to resign. Few hours later, Nikol Pashinyan was arrested, what increased the scale of civil disobedience in Armenia, spreading it beyond the capital of Armenia in Gyumri and Vanadzor, the second- and third-largest cities in the country On April 23, after ten days of tireless demonstrations, prime minister Serzh Sargsyan officially announced about his resignation on the prime minister official website: “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was mistaken,.. I am giving up the post of the country’s prime minister. The movement in the streets is against my tenure. I comply with your demand”.[17] Few hours later, Armenian president Armen Sarkissian signed a decree approving the Government's resignation. Thousands of Armenians in country and in abroad are celebrating the people’s victory of democracy and national unity.

    Ten days of mass demonstrations showed a critical importance of addressing the civil dissatisfaction by the current government in non-violent and organized way. As academic Anna Ohanyan has noticed, “Self-organising and deeply grass-root, the protest movement in Armenia has the potential of introducing genuine change. [18] Since the very first days of the “Make a Step. Reject Serzh” movement Nikol Pashinyan has made it clear that the demonstrators are against any application of violence. The emergence of civil society organizations and the growing awareness of the power of non-violent action in recent years have been among the most positive political developments in Armenia. In light of recently signed EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) Armenia, which is also  is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union has a unique position for becoming as a regional bridge between East and West. This genuine bottom-up democratic movement is a good chance for the Armenian government of proving successful in leading the country to the free and open democracy,

    Source of the image: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service.



    [1]Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service. “Pashinian Continues To Lead Protests For An 'Armenia Without Serzh”. [18.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.rferl.org/a/pashinian-vows-to-keep-up-protests-for-an-armenia-without-serzh-/29174226.html>.

    [2] Luys Foundation is an Armenian foundation that is tasked with developing Armenia by creating a stronger presence of Armenia among world's leading creative thinkers and innovators. Official page:

    [3] CivilNet. “Serzh Sargsyan responded to the open letter of the Luys Foundation graduates”. [21.04.2018]. Available at < https://www.civilnet.am/news/2018/04/21/Serzh-Sargsyan-responded-to-the-open-letter-of-the-Luys-Foundation-graduates/334382>.

    [4] Transparency International Anticorruption Center. “Protestors in Armenia march for democracy”. [18.04.2018]. Available at <https://voices.transparency.org/protestors-in-armenia-march-for-democracy-641182a848b8>.

    [5] Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service. “Tens Of Thousands Protest In Yerevan, Other Armenian Cities Against Sarkisian As New Prime Minister”. [17.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-opposition-protests-parliament-vote-sarkisian-prime-minister/29172095.html>.

    [6] EVN Report. [18.04.2018].

    [7] Public Radio of Armenia. [16.04.2018]. Available at <http://www.armradio.am/en/2018/04/16/46-injured-as-protesters-clash-with-police-in-yerevan/>.

    [8] Anahit Chilingaryan. Human Rights Watch.“Protests Surge in Armenia”. [16.04.2018]. Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/16/protests-surge-armenia>.

    [9] Panorma.am New Agency. [19.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.panorama.am/en/news/2018/04/19/opposition-protests-Armenia/1936085>. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service. “Armenian President Calls For Dialogue As More Than 100 Protesters Detained”. [20.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-protests-yerevan-government-building-sarkisian-cabinet/29176265.html>.

    [10] Official website of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia. Available at <https://am.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/security-and-travel-information/>.

    [11] Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service. “Tens Of Thousands Protest In Yerevan, Other Armenian Cities Against Sarkisian As New Prime Minister”. [17.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-opposition-protests-parliament-vote-sarkisian-prime-minister/29172095.html>.

    [12] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. “ODIHR Director urges Armenian authorities to protect and ensure right to freedom of peaceful assembly”. [19.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.osce.org/odihr/378325>.

    [13] EurAsia Daily. “The Kremlin is watching events in Armenia”. [18.04.2018]. Available at <https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/04/18/the-kremlin-is-watching-events-in-armenia>.

    [14] Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Armenian Service. “Armenian President Calls For Dialogue As More Than 100 Protesters Detained”. [20.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-protests-yerevan-government-building-sarkisian-cabinet/29176265.html>.

    [15] Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, “Armenian Service. Armenian President, Dashnaks Call For Multi-Party ‘Dialogue’”. [19.04.2018]. Available at <https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29177311.html>.

    [16] Aysor News Agency. “Serzh Sargsyan: From January 1 pensions and minimum wage will rise”. [19.04.2018].  (in Armenian language).

    [17] Official website of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia. Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s Statement. [23.04.2018]. Available at <http://www.primeminister.am/en/press-release/item/2018/04/23/Prime-Minister-Serzh-Sargsyans-statement/>.

    [18] Anna Ohanyan. “A very potent protest movement is emerging in Armenia”. Al JAzeera. [21.04.2018]. Available at < https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/potent-protest-movement-emerging-armenia-180419135116999.html>.

    Official website of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia.

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