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.”
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.”
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.