Political Protests Continue in Armenia

The Weekly's correspondent in Yerevan gives highlights from the April Protests as they occur.

Around 4,500 protesters gathered in Yerevan on April 13 to protest the re-election of former president Serge Sarkisian to the role of prime minister. (Photo: Sofia Manukyan/The Armenian Weekly)

Summary

In the past few weeks, local activists have been gearing up in Armenia, expressing dissatisfaction with the past and current political atmosphere and showing unwillingness to continue in the same direction in the future.

To this end, there have been at least three initiatives organizing protests in Armenia. One of these is #մերժիրսերժին (or, #rejectserge in English). Although it started small, it gained support as it progressed, particularly from youth. It has organized several rallies including a protest action in front of the Republican Party’s (RPA) head office, as well as several car marches trying to mobilize society.

The two other groups are Front for Armenian State that was formed in Nov. 2017 and held protests in the past months, and the initiative #իմքայլը (#mystep) which is the initiative of the political party Civil Contract (which joined a coalition with two other opposition parties in 2017 to form the “Yelk” faction, which holds seven seats in parliament).

The #mystep movement is led by Nikol Pashinyan and consisted of a walking march on March 31 from Gyumri to Yerevan, which culminated in a gathering on April 13 in Freedom Square, to be followed by three days of protests. The last day of protests is April 17, when the vote for prime minister is slated to take place. All three initiatives have joined forces for this protest action planned from April 13 to 17.

 

Highlights from April 9 Rally

On April 9, the Front for Armenian State organized a rally celebrating the end of Serge Sarkisian’s responsibilities as the President of Armenia.

“Some ask ‘What can we celebrate when we have so many problems?’” said Davit Sanasaryan from #մերժիրսերժին initiative, “but let me remind you, dear citizens, that we have the opportunity to make these eight days without Serge an eternity. Let me also remind you that our initiative is not only against Serge, but against the entire system it sustains.”

Many speakers took the podium, including one satirical performance by a speaker dressed as the famous character from a Soviet-era cartoon ‘Cheburashka,’ also a name used colloquially to refer to the former president. In a speech, the Cheburashka confessed that he failed as a political leader and that time has come for him to leave.” (Photo: Sofia Manukyan/The Armenian Weekly)

This activism is in stark contrast to the silence of past months despite decisions made in the government contributing to the decline of overall life quality (we’ve covered one such issue, labor code amendments).

 

Highlights from April 13 Rally

During the April 13 rally, Nikol Pashinyan also mentioned the decline Armenia has been facing during Sarkisian’s and the ruling RPA’s rule. “In this fight, our aim is not just preventing a third term of Serge Sarkisian’s ruling or stripping off the powers from Republican Party. The aim of our fight is to return the sovereignty to the citizens of this country.”

A local woman contributes a 10 AMD coin to Serge Sarkisian’s “pension fund.” The satirical sign was created by protesters, who hope that the former president will decline the role of prime minister that he was recently nominated for and will instead, retire. (Photo: Sofia Manukyan/The Armenian Weekly)

Speaking about some of the socio-economic declines in the country such as the widespread loan burden and continuous monopolies stagnating the economy, Nikol Pashinyan expressed his anger at the widening gap between the rich and poor, and as a manifestation of this. He also mentioned the failures in the military sphere.

“It is enough we keep silent about the situation of our soldiers in the army who also have become captives in the hands of this plunderer system. It is 21st century, yet the soldiers have problems of sanitation, their poor families have to take the burden of supplying them with underwear”.

During the rally, Pashinyan also thanked the civil initiatives as well as political opposition representatives who have joined efforts to finally act together against one united goal. “We should stand together hand in hand and they should see in our eyes the defeat of Serge Sarkisian’s system”, concluded Pashinyan. He continued speaking about the activities planned for the upcoming days, after which the protesters occupied France Square and paralyzed the traffic in the city center.

 

Highlights from April 15 Rally:  Pashinyan Presents His Vision for Armenia Without Sarkisian

During one of his speeches on April 15, Pashinyan spoke at length about his vision for an Armenia without Serge Sarkisian.

First, Pashinyan detailed the several changes he would like to see made to the electoral system, so that it can be more transparent. One of his goals is to centralize the system of fingerprinting voters, as the current one is localized, and voters can still vote in multiple locations. He also proposed a mobile system of electoral lists, so that when a citizen leaves the country, his or her name is automatically removed. Another step he suggested is the creation of a body that would investigate electoral crimes, which would be lead by an opposition party representative.

Pashinyan also spoke about bank reform, explaining that in the current system, banks take advantage of citizens’ financial illiteracy by placing heavy loan burdens on them. He suggested “resetting” overdue loans, particularly consumer and agricultural ones and bringing in strict state control that would specifically protect agricultural and internal producers.

Pashinyan then highlighted his plan for universities. “When a student goes to distribute leaflets at the university, they ban it, saying they should not politicize education. But the student unions are themselves under the Republican Party’s rule. In Armenia they try to stop students from being what they are in the world–the engine for changes in a state. So all universities should be de-politicized and no rector should be part of any political party. Universities should become independent,” he said.

To eradicate corruption, Pashinyan said that when someone is appointed as a state official, he or she should be required to present credentials confirmed by notary, which permits the verification of his or her properties and bank accounts in any part of the world by any citizen. Unwillingness to concede this information will result in ineligibility of the candidate

At the end of his speech, Pashinyan said that his movement has received huge monetary support in the last day. According to him, his supporters have raised about 1,700,000 AMD in donations. In the France Square alone, which has been occupied by protesters since April 13, around 900,000 AMD has been collected. People have also sent food and water to the protesters.    

Organizers have promised that the protests will continue until at least April 17.

 

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Sofia Manukyan

Sofia Manukyan is a staff writer at the Armenian Weekly. Her specialization is in the field of human rights impacted by the private sector. She is particularly interested in how private interests impact the environment and socio-economics. She holds a degree in human rights from the University of Essex. In Armenia she is mostly engaged with promoting environmental protection and labor rights.

5 Comments

  1. All of Mr. Pashinyan are legitimate, specially the independent of Universities from any political powers, which hopefully will produce fair and Honest future leaders; and most importantly the control of corruption, what Pashinyan has suggested should not be limited to elected officials but should cover any dissection making official who can affect the welfare of the citizens.

  2. It’s high time for the ARR and the other Armenian organisations in the diaspora to denounce the Sarkissian regime. Soon they will shoot at the demonstrators and it will be too late. Remember March 2008 !

  3. When a country is in turmoil, normally, the leader reaches out to people trying to ease the tension and reassure them. Probably, offering some compromises. To do this, the leader normally gives an interview to a local respected and unbiased reporter, answering a few tough and even embarrassing questions. In Armenia, meanwhile, Serjik gave an interview today, not to an Armenian journalist but to Russian Izvestia!! And the questions were not about people or demonstrators. Serjik was explaining to the Russian journalist how is he going to be in charge of foreign policy, trying to show his loyalty to his master Putin.
    This is not the first time that Serjik shows his utter disregard for what is going on in the country. A few years ago, he was silent for almost a month when demonstrators closed Baghramyan. He is not only corrupt and incompetent but suffers from delusion of grandeur. It is as if he doesn’t give a damn about what the “peasants” say or do. Before the April war, he kept repeating that Armenia has the most combat-ready army in the region. After the war, it became clear that soldiers are fighting with 80s weapons and forget about Israeli drones, they don’t even have the most basic night vision goggles! This man is a menace to the country. Sadly, he wont leave easily. In all likelihood, it will take a few more years of plunder and embezzlement and possibly even a default till they get rid of him.
    We in diaspora can do more than following the news. The demonstrators are in dire need of money and diaspora can help in this regard. At least, you know that your money is not going to end up in some oligarchs pocket.

  4. April 2016 was all I needed to get convinced about Serjhik and his servitude to his overlords in Moscow. Armenia’s “Republican” party = Russia’s lap dogs. To date I have not seen a single solution coming from those incompetent thieves of any of Armenia’s problems where the future of the nation looks brighter. I might not have a problem with thieves as long as the nation is in progress, but I draw the line where incompetence sets in. When Erdogan’s friend Putin tells Serjhik to jump, he asks how high without any conditions. While I get that we cannot get rid of Russia and Armenia depends on their military “aid”, the correct answer of a real leader would be, I will jump right after you recognize Artsakh just like you did to Oseetia and Abkhazia. It has become abundantly clear that Russia’s and Armenia’s interests are not aligned, and Armenia needs a leader that deal with Russia to benefit Armenia, not licks its feet without preconditions.

  5. As I reflect the current events after my Armenian American family office, http://www.continentaladvisory.com hosted the http://www.invest-armenia.com forum in NYC with Asia Development Bank’s support, the current parlimentery scheme by the Republican Party suggests a Demand Diaspora 2020 aka “DD2020” where as Diaspora concerns from Eurozone/MENA/Americas are represented in the parlimentery proceedings; real seats and real votes.
    This current status of Ministry of Diaspora and blind faith support by the Apostolic Church/AGBU is naive at best. The past 10-years of the current political party has shown limited developmental gains for RofA with few pockets of excellence whilst the issue of depopulation, and severe health/infrastructure issues abound. The global diaspora in a new DD2020 voting movement needs to be represented as the old century order of Apostolic Church/AGBU does not represent concerns of most Armenians who have given human capital and treasurer. Hence, DD2020 allows the current regime to enact its so called policy agenda with measurable outcomes. If not, as we say in Brooklyn, New York, “throw the bums out!”

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