Barevolution at a Crossroads: Thoughts on April 9

When Raffi Hovanissian addressed the crowd of approximately 10,000 at Freedom Square just after noontime on April 9, he repeated the same rhetoric he had been stating for months—power to the people, the nation belongs to the people, the people will be victorious, the corrupt, dishonest leaders of Armenia will answer to the people in Freedom Square and so forth. Essentially nothing new was said. The oath he gave with the people, constitutions in hand, was inspirational, even charming. But he let the crowd down when he sent them off to lunch at 1:30p.m. There would be no march en masse as anticipated by many to the Presidential Palace in a magnificent show of defiance against what the people, what this movement, saw as a corrupt, kleptocratic, illegitimate regime.

That march wouldn’t take place until the second rally of the day held at 6p.m. adjourned, but by then the crowd had dwindled to only a few thousand. It was the jeers in the crowd that coaxed Raffi into agreeing to stride past the Palace while making yet another pilgrimage to Tsitsernakaberd to say one more prayer. I heard firsthand people’s frustrations, and they demanded that he take immediate action by chanting ”Now! Now!”, just as they had done earlier that afternoon. As if to say, “you want it, you got it,” he suddenly announced that they would move forward, only to be met by a wall of police in full riot gear standing across the width of Baghramyan Avenue, at its intersection with Tamanyan Street. Naturally a melee ensued, panic, shoving, beating. And video recording—there were dozens of cameras and cell phones thrust overhead in the crowd. His confidant and the top Barev candidate for mayor of Yerevan Armen Martirosyan was detained after a brutal struggle with the police at the line of contact, which was captured on video. Even after watching it three times I couldn’t determine whether the police provoked him to throw punches and kick, or if they simply lost patience with his resistance.

I was in the crowd, taking photos and capturing video footage of my own, which I promptly posted on my blog as well as Facebook shortly after I returned home. Although I admired Raffi’s courage and that of everyone in the crowd, as I was dozing off late at night I began to have doubts as to whether the confrontation was worth it. For weeks I have believed that a catalyst was necessary in order to activate the dormant masses and thus take the movement to the next level, another step forward in the tireless, snail-paced efforts to replace the authorities. His near month-long hunger strike proved fruitless, and so did yesterday’s symbolic pledge of allegiance to the nation and constitution. Raffi could not continue stalling forever, everyone knew this. But his unexpected change of plans last night in response to a stream of goading catcalls demonstrated a lack of tactfulness, even disorganization.

The entire spectrum of the opposition seemed silent today. The student movement held its own protest separate from the Barevolution block late in the afternoon near the National Assembly building, which resulted in detentions and absurd shouting and shoving matches with pro-government goons and the police—or as a friend often jests, the authorities’ hired security service—cleverly captured on video and distributed via Facebook and YouTube [], only to be followed by inactivity today.

The police near Bagramyan on April 9 (Photo by Serouj Baghdasarian)
The police near Bagramyan on April 9 (Photo by Serouj Aprahamian)

Fact is, the numbers of people needed for a peaceful transition of power, similar to what transpired in Georgia during the Rose Revolution of 2003, are not there. It is clearly obvious that the vast majority of citizens are still drowning in a fatalistic whirlpool, convinced that nothing will change whether or not they are actually present at these rallies. Perhaps realizing this all too well, Raffi decided not to lead the crowds up Bagramyan Street in the afternoon. Or maybe it was never on the agenda to begin with. But the seed of confusion took root in me when I saw Jirayr Sefilian and other members of the Sardarabad Movement gasp in disbelief when learning the rally had broken up shortly before arriving on the scene. It was then when I realized that Raffi is really not communicating his intent to the leaders of the groups supporting him. If I am indeed right about that, then it’s a catastrophe in the making.

This all leaves me and thousands of others in a tipsy state of bewilderment. I simply cannot understand the logic of events that transpired on the ninth, and virtually everyone I’ve spoken to confirms the same. The moment to take to the streets should have been when the crowd was 10,000 strong, although I understood full well that number had to be ten times greater for a show of strength to have been effective. And the evening standoff proved pointless—when I revisited the site of the clash earlier tonight it was business as usual, as if nothing had ever happened. I don’t really know what to make of all these days off in between protest initiatives, it only adds to the confusion and peculiarity of the disjointed opposition groups. A concrete plan of action is being anticipated on April 12.

But before then, Raffi would be wise to invite seasoned politicians and intelligent, reasonable thinkers like Armen Rustamyan, Nikol Pashinian, Sefilian, Andreas Ghukasyan and Karapet Rubinyan to his headquarters on Thursday and hammer out a concrete strategy on how the movement should transform, or rather gain focus. Reconciliation with the Free Democrats is long overdue, as the tried-and-true mobilization skills of Alexander Arzoumanian are inexcusably being squandered.  At this point, he needs all the help he can get. Although he may not realize it, Raffi’s pride is blinding his vision and stifling his expression of intent, which will lead to his downfall unless he learns how to listen and compromise, right now.

Raffi has less than 48 hours until the next scheduled rally to save face and regain people’s confidence, or else risk becoming irrelevant. And this movement cannot afford that, not after all the progress it has made thus far.

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.


  1. This after election turmoil and the way it is being handled by Raffi is just a continuation of Raffi’s leadership style during Serg’s first presidency. Raffi is behaving like a ship without a rudder. It is not clear what he is trying to accomplish. If he talked about his plans as a guiding opposition figure to make some changes in the current government, then we will have a direction. He needs to draw up the plans and give it to Serge and publish it. Staying at the level of generalities like giving the country to the people etc, is to get people riled up. It is just a mob mentality going nowhere.

  2. Christian Garbis is totally right ,Raffi must have to sit with the other opposition parties and start having a strategy with some intelligent politicians.I think people are getting tired of his repetitious speeches while there is no concrete action ,and he has to compromise.People are starting to get tired of him and see no action whatsoever. Its just talk and talk.

  3. An excellent and sober analysis. Two points:

    1. You say, “A concrete plan of action is being anticipated on April 12.” I think a concrete plan of action was being anticipated every single day, and certainly no later than April 9. Much of the frustration you heard firsthand is probably attributable to the absence of that plan. April 12 may well be too late.

    2. You say that Raffi should consult. I sense that he has consulted endlessly. (The ultimatum he issued before he rebranded his hunger strike as a fast looked like a hodgepodge of every idea thrown at him.) What he has not done is to engage in give and take with the people you name. What you call his pride (I’d call it narcissism) has prevented him from reaching an agreement with the rest of the opposition. And I suspect that is why everyone was eager to pounce on his praying-at-Dzidzernagapert-with-the-chief-of-police misstep and call it Raffi’s “political suicide.” Maybe now he’ll listen to those other voices.

    Anyway, that’s my analysis from a distance….

  4. Interesting article by a dyed-in-the-wool Barevarevolutionary acknowledging, in a roundabout way, that Hovannisian is a fraud (my word). And that all those people who believed in him were used.
    And regarding {…or else risk becoming irrelevant.}: too late; Mr. Hovannisian became irrelevant when he folded his fasting tent and meekly went away: he blinked first.
    And now Mr. Hovannisian is off to Moscow on a supposedly private visit. Strange timing, isn’t it ?

  5. Raffi changed his plan and went to Sardarabad, and couldn’t connect with the rest of the people, as there were no microphones (speakers were seized, as far as I read), and Raffi was against shedding Armenian blood, as he always announced, and as far as I understood head of the police, Vladimir Gasparyan was always accompanying him, and may be he suggested Raddi to do so. It was very nice of Vladimir Gasparyan to pray with Raffi. That was a very good geste of him to pray together, for our Hayrenik and Serge Sargsyan and the Vehapar H.H. Karekin Nerssissyan.

  6. Do we realize the damage Raffi has done and continues to do to the future of Armenia? He is strengthening the corrupt government officials and weakening the people to solve the country’s problems. This strengthens the corrupt government since it shows to them that there is no real opposition and control over what they want to do. Even with ten thousand people which is a strong showing nothing was accomplished and no demands were presented to the president of Armenia. If Raffi had just walked to the presidential palace and given a list of demands to Serge, he along with the people of Armenia would have been stronger. Instead he went to pray and left his supports to wither in the wind. What a loss. Here is a western educated supposedly diplomat who after ten years of studying Armenia and Armenian politics doesn’t know what he wants and what he wants to do.

  7. Bravo Raffi. Here we have an American born Hye dedicated to our homeland by his show for activism. As Diaspora Hyes we talk a lot, but Raffi is doing his in Armenia. He will succeed because American born Raffi Hovanessian speaks for my generation of aging Armenians. He needs our support. While the late Monty Melkonian rallied our young fighting men in Karabakh, Raffi is leading the people from the villages and cities at the ballot boxes. God Bless Raffi and the voices of democracy in our homeland

  8. Together with Raffi, it is exactly these “intelligent, reasonable thinkers like Armen Rustamyan, Nikol Pashinian, Sefilian, Andreas Ghukasyan and Karapet Rubinyan” who got us where we are today. Seems like they are conspiring together to boost the peoples’ faith in the authorities.

  9. Leaving accusations of narcissism and egoism aside (do we really know enough to judge so harshly?), I agree that it is time for concrete plans and cooperation from all parties to find solutions for the economic and social woes of Armenia

  10. Another missed opportunity for our people. It’s sad, but the movement for change, for replacing the oligarchic regime by the rule of law should not stop on Raffi. Perhaps, and hopefully, the best lesson the opposition forces can take from the post-election events is that they have to compromise with each other to reach an agreed plan and that alone none of them count anything against the well-organized party of the oligarches.

  11. A narrow and incorrect observation. The truth of the matter is that Armenia needs a normal opposition party which is not prone to making unilateral claims nor spreading disinformation. A populist like Raffi is no good for Armenia, he has not shown that he will be a good leader, rather he has shown himself to be a demagogue and reckless with his foreign policy rhetoric.

  12. The author states that “the numbers of people needed for a peaceful transition of power, similar to what transpired in Georgia during the Rose Revolution of 2003, are not there” and explains it by the fact “that the vast majority of citizens are still drowning in a fatalistic whirlpool, convinced that nothing will change whether or not they are actually present at these rallies”. First of all, does it occur to you that may be people are smart enough to understand how dangerous that can be to our country? Or, are you ruling out that there are a lot of people who actually support the president? Second, there is no such thing as “peaceful transition of power”, it’s called a revolution, as you mentioned yourself in case of Georgia it’s Rose Revolution, or could be an Arab Revolution. Nothing is peaceful there. So, are you calling for Revolution? Do you realize all the consequences of what you are calling for? I guess not, because only a person who hasn’t seen all the horror of the war or went through the hardship of living in extreme conditions for several years can that easily throw these kind of irresponsible statements. There was never any good coming from any revolution anywhere in whole history. Read some books at least. Without denying the fact of corruption or oligarchs, there are other ways to achieve democracy and rule of law, and there are plenty of examples. US is one of them. And that process is gradually started also in Armenia and a lot has been done under president Sargisyan. As he said himself he prefers to “rush slowly”, because he understands clearly the danger of even one wrong move. At stake is the survival of our country.

  13. Raffi ,no doubt is a patriot.No doubt about that!!!
    Why others that were also in oppostion DID NOTHING to support hi,say PAP.*prosperous party, ARF, The Ramgavars and a few others is puzzling.After all, they were ALSO IN IT..wern’t they??
    otherwise how do you explain that PAP,ARF etc.,e tc., did not participate at Serge Sargsyanm Inauguration at the Hamalir???
    Wasnm´t that clear enough that they were IN PLAIN ,NO ,NOT ONLY OPPOSITION BUT IGNORING THE PRESIDENT!!!!!
    I did write in armenian at length articles to aforementioned political parties,long before the votation..that they should also MAKE AN EFFORT TO MAKE THIS a CONCILLIATION (hashdvoghagan)GOVERNMENT. LAKE MANY MAY BE IN ACCORD WITH ME THIS WOULD AHVE BEEN AN ALTERNATIVE OF poco a poco(by and by guiding Serge Sargsyan to AFFECT REAL CHANGES.No one heeded.Apparently the Armenian politico are of the kind that they fight to the DEATH,like so,me Far Eastern so called fightings…
    which is absurd in present day DIPLOMACY OF THE F I N A N C E S !!!right now the G8 are there in London busy planning the planet´s future(all based on Finances).How could tiny Armenia all of a sudden by a ONE MAN CRUSADE,shall we call it gain foothold in that tumultuous region….what´s more… with beautifull neighbours watching over the frontier for a chance to jump in on the weakened prey…
    I would imagine the followign for RAFFI.he should summon not only the afore mentioned fedw. but also people totally farther away,like the Marxist Davit hakobian,. artashes geghamian, Shavarsh kocharian,Ashot Manucharian( yes couple lof thse are leftists so what??? if they are stout Armenians…
    Armeniasn as yet whether in Homeland or Diaspora think that the politico only have the GOD GIEN RIGHT TO GOVERN and ISHKLHEL,
    Awfull bad word for us Armenians. We shoul stick to Garavarutyun, Governmetn for the ISHJKHANS AND BDESHKS..belong to the past.this way we can educate our people to esteem all political leniation peoplle .NO NOT FOR THEIR IDEOLOGICALLY ORIENTED MINDS BUT FOR THEIR PERSONAL M E R I T S —–
    Anyhow I Hope dear Serge Sargsyan also condescends MORE TO COME DOWN FROM THE position he ostentates and give a hand to the ¨other¨ siders.In short A HASHDVOGHAGAN GARAVARUTYUN…for the ROAD TO TOTAL FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY IS REAL THORNY8as they say in armenian)
    Plase forgive me if I pass the ,margin here and there.
    But let´s all pray that HAYNUN ASDVADZU, The Armenians´God will pity us ..for we have somehow gotten to this point that we a HAVE STATE/NATION, after all those centuries and we ahve to KEEP IT.Otherwise the mnext generation will not forgive us!!!they will laugh on us.Like the enemies are right now.Keep the heads high shake all Armenian politically oriented buddis hands and tell them we PLACE THE NATION ABOVE YOU GUYS BUT WE LOVE YOU TOO!!

  14. Not much can change in Armenia until,the “opposition” becomes a group that stands together publically and integrates an understanding and involvement of the political process with the populist activity. The criticism we see
    ( in some case subtle but nevertheless evident) of Raffi’s activity is all we need to see. There really is no organized opposition because all parties refuse to subordinate their individual interests into a true loyal opposition. Unfortunately , the municipal elections look like the same movie except this time everyone wants some air time. I think Raffi surprised PAP, ANC and even the ARF. Some joined him openly, some straddled the line, but all were late because they had all previously decided to do their own thing. Therein lies the problem.
    I also hear about Raffi not being a native born Armenian. If we are to succeed in the development of Armenia, then we need to get over this behavior. His skills as a politician, the appeal of his message and the political climate are factors that should determine his success. When Karekin I was Catholicos , I used to hear comments about his
    acceptance in Armenia because he was from the diaspora. Here was probably the most charismatic and brilliiant clergyman of the past 50 years and we worry about where he was born. Ironically, as he was from Kesab and educated in Antelias( and myself as an Armenian-American), I would hardly have considered Karekin I as anything but a brilliant Armenian period.
    Regardless of,the success or failure of the current opposition process, I appeal to President Sargsyan to observe the divisions and disillusionment in the ranks of the citizenry , to use his electoral powers and to institute the needed reforms that restores hope. At the end of the day, hope is the basis for all improvement. It is the motivator, it is the energy and the foundation to release the potential of our people.
    At the end of the day, a unified incumbent party holding out for change from a dis unified opposition is not a win for the Armenian people…. not when a significant part of the population is in need… Let us pray,for the wisdom and patriotism of all parties.

  15. I disagree with Garen regarding “there was never any good coming from any revolution anywhere in whole history.” The 1688 Glorious Revolution in England produced the Bill of Rights and paved the way for the British Empire. The American Revolution had a spectacular success, setting the stage for the most powerful country on earth. Most importantly, our own 1988 revolution made NKR’s liberation possible. All three were relatively low on casualties, did not go into extremes, and the leadership was able to maintain control. The reason some of the color revolutions such as Georgia failed is because their leaders became dictators.

    The problem with Serzh’s “rushing slowly” approach is that the people do not have the patience. The wishes of the people is what matters, and if they want to leave the country, they will. Emigration is only the tip of the iceberg. Those who grudgingly remain in Armenia are going to be disillusioned and alienated from the country, and they will not fight in the event of war. That’s what happened in 1920 in Armenia, when the army refused to fight the Turks, two years after Sardarapat, and one year after ARF’s “landslide” victory. When people are sick of the country, it’s over. That is why democratic change is urgent in Armenia.

    Whether we think that revolution is good or bad does not matter. When the people’s discontent reaches a boiling point, they are not going to listen to calls for “caution”. What the government and opposition need to understand is that unless there is change, there will be a revolution. And if it’s leaderless and without control, casualties will likely be high.

    However, the leaders of the revolution do not have to be Raffi or the ARF or the other parties. The 1988 revolution happened without the traditional parties. It happened with grassroots efforts by new activists. Armenia is not a nation of parties, it is a nation of people. So, if the movement has dedicated individuals, they may bypass the “traditional” leaders and organize to bring change to the country, hopefully through non-violent civil disobedience.

    • The US did have a revolution, it had a war of independence, same with Artsakh. The Glorious Revolution was one aspect of British thought, which was rooted in the Anglican tradition dating to the founding years of the English kingdom, versus the ideas brought by the Normans and later French/Continental influence, such as the doctrine of ‘Divine Right’ monarchs. In essence a homegrown ideology won over a foreign ideology.

      The people would have patience if they were not bombarded by negative news and agit-prop on a daily basis.

    • In late 1980’s, before Armenia’s independence, we had a revolution–we replaced the Communist regime of Soviet Armenia, when non-Communists took over in the elections of 1990. This was preceded by widespread demonstrations, nationwide strikes, and civil disobedience, all peaceful. Only after the change in power was Armenia able to meaningfully assist Artsakh.
      You bring an interesting point about the homegrown English system vs. the concept of the Divine Right, and this is very important in Armenia’s case. Conrtrary to some Armenians’ belief, democracy is not foreign to the Armenian culture. In fact, the spirit of democracy is inherent in us. Even though we have not had a democratic system, the principles underlying democracy (limited government, intolerance to authoritarianism) are part of Armenian culture. In his book “Armenia, Survival of a Nation,” Christopher Walker, one of the most objective British historians on Armenian history, stated: “There was no concept of absolute monarchy, or of ‘divine right’ in Armenia. … Thus the Armenian king should never be seen as more than the first among equals.”
      Armenians historically have not tolerated authoritariansim. Some see it as a problem and the source of our so called “divisiveness.” It is actually an asset. It means that we are ready for democracy. In fact, we have been ready for democracy for thousands of years. We just need the right political system (i.e. a democracy). Without all the disruptive invasions, I am certain we would have developed into a Swiss-style confederacy or would have created our own Magna Carta. If we have proper democratic system, our people’s democratic spirit will do miracles, making Armenia much stronger and more prosperous. That is why those Armenians who come to the U.S. make it their home, instead of staying here temporarily, and work hard to build a prosperous future. And those Armenians who illegally come to the U.S. spend fortunes to remain in the U.S.. And many of them establish businesses and become far more prosperous than many of the locals. Armenians are drawn to a democratic system, such as the one in the U.S., and they flourish in such a system. If Armenia becomes a democracy, our people will enrich Armenia instead of enriching other countries.

  16. Well said Stapan. It’s in fact catastrophic that our opposition forces are so inefficient, self-indulging and disorganized.

  17. Dear Stepan and vahagn,
    I understand your concerns about a needed CHANGE.But believe me our people in armenia(the majority) are only good and MIAPAN(not united) Miasin,when a REAL NATIONAL ISSUE, such as that of NK,Artsakh was well ripened.Especially after Sumgait and Baki…
    The ordinary man on the street,whether nin Yerevan or in the Provinces is not for Revolutions.I refer to a Gov. take over by force such as in Egypt or Libya.They are ñlaw abiding and quite harmeless.Forget about March 1st drama…that was out of control and an agitated one by the LTP Tea.Unlike which Raffi has been peace oriented and has conducted his QUEUST for change peacefully and himself suffering..
    Thence to expect a Revolution like that would require one of thsoe important political parties or a few of them together doing it. Or,I better not menntion itXXXXX.
    I don´t approve of that either. We /aRMENIASN WHETHER IN hOMELAND OR OVERSEAS have to DO AS I ¨¨SUGGESTED¨ BY A CONCILLIATORY (hashdvoghakan) CABIENT/GOV., in which people like hairikian Bagratian and a host of opposition people are included.Plus people like V-.Oskanian, his party chief Tsarukyan(probably the only Oli that is lenient to a change) etc.These ought to ENTER INTO ACIVIL DISCUSSION WITH PRESW. SERGE SARGSYAN AND BY AND BY convince him to enter the needed changes. Within those 5 yrs that he will be pres. he has to choose very carefully his people and try to bring about< real change…
    regretfully the ARF and/or the Ramgavars have not come forth..
    last night Mr, Rustamyan ,the bureau chief of ARF was interviewed on kentron TV.I listend to the whole opinion?
    he is good as an functionary(probably at the Municiplaity,has knowledge of the working there.But asa Gvo. man,a diplomat like V.Oskanian would do a lot better…
    Serge Sargsyan ought to consider V.Oskanian as his v.president(and why not ,create that post9 and or Premier!!!!
    That is my take.He (V.Oskanian) was hurt when they tried to stick on him fraud.Far from it, he got a coupl million from the Mormons(and go see what he has done with the CIVILITAS FOUNDATION In Downtown Yerevan.Thosse girls and boys there workign do not live by just inhaling they need salaries and rent at that No. On North aVe. is quite high….
    So ,I have in mind another very apt person that might be of help dealing with this that side.Say..well Hairikian who deserves a good post like interior Ministre, or some such position and there are others who can tag lalong the aforementioend.The Military should not be touched.kept under serge ,Much better.for the Axeris are overlooking very anxiouly what heappnes in Armenia.
    Trust you think something also as to help forge ournear deadend discussion FWD to a better footholding.
    best hasgcoghin

  18. Vahag, let me clarify my points. The revolutions you mentioned (The American Revolutionary War, Artshakh War or Independence after Soviet Union) are all different than revolutions I meant. You are talking about fight for independence from some sort of foreign occupation. I am not against it. My examples were like French revolution, Russian revolution of 1917, Islamic revolution in Iran, all sorts of color revolutions and Arab revolutions. They all brought a lot of distractions and none of them served their purpose but harm. Even for Glorious Revolution it’s not the same and I quote from Wikipedia: “the Glorious Revolution did not involve the masses of ordinary people in England (the majority of the bloodshed occurred in Ireland). This fact has led many historians, including Stephen Saunders Webb,[99] to suggest that, in England at least, the events more closely resemble a coup d’état than a social revolution”.
    My point is you can not create a legitimate, democratic country by illegal means. In our case, at this time, the revolution is the worst possible scenario. I agree with you that people wants changes now, I want that too, but it’s not that easy. It’s a gradual process and we are getting there. You can’t deny all the positive changes happened in our society for the past several years. We can not afford experimenting through trials and errors. Even for countries that had no external risks it took decades before they establish a democratic system. People need to understand all the risks, especially Armenians who had very long and sad history. I am also for having a strong opposition. Being patient is not a bad thing overall and I agree with you, we all need changes. But we disagree on how.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.