Yesterday’s elections with the National Assembly yielded disappointing results for the hundreds of thousands of protesters hoping to elect opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the country’s prime minister. At the end of the eight-hour special parliamentary session, Pashinyan took the podium, and first addressing the thousands of protesters waiting anxiously in Republic Square, told them to wait and that he would join them shortly. He then began a sharp address to Republican Party (RPA) MPs in the room.
“Today I was accused heavily from this platform of being a threat, and of attempting to destroy the Republican Party,” stated Pashinyan. “I would now like to announce officially that I do not have any such intentions, because the Republican party has already destroyed itself— immediately and irreversibly—through today’s debate, questions, and discussions. The force that announces war against its own people cannot exist, and what we are witnessing now is not a Republican party, but its ghost. And there can be no second opinion here.”
Following the sessions, Pashinyan gave a speech at the rally in Republic Square, calling for a “total strike” by students and workers effective the next morning. Today, protesters heeded his call and nearly all major roads in the capital were blocked.
— Maria Titizian (@MariaTitizian) May 2, 2018
Airport workers were participating in the strike, and according to reports, one flight—an Istanbul-Yerevan direct—was cancelled today, though there was no official information indicating the cancellation was directly connected with the protest. In a statement, Department of Aviation spokesperson Satenik Hovhannisyan indicated that no other flights would be cancelled. Video footage from an RT video agency showed airport employees staging a symbolic, hour-long strike. “I haven’t seen such joy in 39 years,” says Tigran Movsisyan, a passenger at the airport, “the people are rejoicing, it is the will of the people. No one bribed anyone, it is not possible to bribe a million people.”
One Diasporan expat emphasized that the strikes do not mean the streets are volatile or dangerous, and even police appeared to have abandoned their posts. “There’s no violence, no thievery, no hurtful behavior,” wrote Tamar Najarian-Isajanyan in a Facebook post. “It’s like the country went on vacation all at once.”
In fact, many in Armenia treated the protests more like a celebration than a strike, and the recent civil disobedience seems deeply intertwined with a sense of national patriotism. Armenian flags are more prominent than ever in the nation’s capital, and social media is ablaze with jubilant imagery of citizens engaged in festivities typically reserved for Armenian celebrations, like barbecuing in the streets and dancing.
For many digital laborers, whose work is not tied to a physical location and can work from anywhere, little changed, except for the social environment of the city. Charlotte Poulain is a Diasporan Armenian from Paris who relocated to Yerevan in 2016 and works as Operations Director at the non-profit ONEArmenia. She says she and her team work all day and participate in the rallies in the evenings. “We all manage to fit the revolution into our daily schedule. It’s inspiring, it’s emotional, it’s very interesting and yes, fun.” She’s observed that there are some for whom the demonstrations have been particularly lucrative. “The people selling stuff on the streets are making a killing. I spotted a lady selling olives and sweet sujukh [threaded walnuts dipped in syrup coating] at hraparak [Republic Square] last night—her business was booming.”
For some small businesses, however, the varying degrees of protest present in the nation’s capital since Serge Sarkisian’s election to the post of prime minister on April 17 (from which he resigned days later), have been less than ideal. Nairian is a start-up company founded in 2015 that sells locally-produced natural cosmetics that has a brick and mortar store in downtown Yerevan, as well as a factory/farm in nearby village that they bring tourists to visit when the weather is nice. Each day the strike continues, both their sales and their tourism is affected, a pressing concern for a business this young.
But Nairian co-founder, Anahit Markosian, says she doesn’t blame the protesters. “Of course we have some losses, but we don’t blame the people who struggle, who close the roads as a sign of protest. We blame the ruling party for it. I posted on my Facebook page [below] that we should make the ruling party pay for these losses.”
Since the call for strikes, the Minister of Culture, Armen Amiryan, resigned. It was reported that he submitted his resignation after protesters appeared outside of his office demanding he join the strike. Varazdat Karapetyan, a Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Territorial Administration, also resigned, stating: “Dear friends, in this situation, I cannot remain indifferent. I am leaving the office of deputy minister (though I do not know to whom I should submit my resignation).”
Meanwhile, the RPA parliamentary faction leader Vahram Baghdasaryan made an announcement to press that it would not nominate a PM candidate for the May 8 election, and—without identifying Pashinyan by name—that it would support any candidate who has the support of at least a third of parliamentarians in Armenia’s National Assembly. Given that the remaining parties in parliament, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Tsarukyan faction have reiterated their support for his candidacy, it seems likely that Nikol Pashinyan will win the election for interim PM. Responding to the RPA’s apparent submission, Pashinyan at a rally called off strike actions and protests for May 3, telling his supporters, “Let’s have a rest.”
As a reminder, before the last vote on May 1, RPA representatives made a special announcements they would not “block the vote,” but during the elections, all but one went back on their word. The only Republican to defect in the vote was Felix Tsolakyan, an MP since 2017 and a former Soviet KGB operative based in Southern Armenia. Tsolakyan was praised by Pashinyan, who said during his speech in the rally afterwards “One MP from the Republican faction, General Felix Tsolakyan, voted in favor of my candidacy. He wrote his name in golden script in the hearts and souls of the people.”