On the occasion of Nikol Pashinyan’s appointment to the role of prime minister earlier today, congratulatory remarks have already started rolling in. The first to congratulate Pashinyan was Russian president Vladimir Putin, who yesterday was inaugurated for his fourth term. Putin has ruled the country as either president or prime minister for the last 18 years.
Poster from 16 year-old Russian protestor: “My mom says that sometime long ago Putin wasn’t president.” (Credit @styazshkin) pic.twitter.com/F7eSA4cszO
— Joshua Yaffa (@yaffaesque) May 7, 2018
The Russian president expressed hopes for strengthening friendly, allied relations between the two countries, as well as developing partnerships within Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Pashinyan has in turn confirmed that he will meet Vladimir Putin on May 14 in Sochi.
A joint statement from the European Union’s High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn also expressed hopes to continue working with the newly appointed prime minister and his government “on the implementation of the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement signed last November, with a view to further consolidating democracy, the rule of law and respect of human rights, and to create a prosperous and resilient country for the benefit of all citizens of Armenia.”
Congratulations to the new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol #Pashinyan, looking forward to implementing #EU– #Armenia & Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement, strengthening Eastern partnership & developing & relations, I wish success tackling many challenges ahead
— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) May 8, 2018
Also of interest are the recent reports that a group of FBI investigators will be arriving to Armenia to investigate the illegal outflow of capital from Armenia, specifically targeting those oligarchs and officials, who have transferred illegal money to the United States in an attempt to legalize it. Armenia’s General Prosecutor’s Office stated that it was not aware of such a trip, while the U.S. Embassy in Armenia stated that it is not competent to either reject or confirm issues related to investigations of law enforcement bodies.
Zooming out for some more regional context, there have been questions as to why Russia did not get involved in the situation in Armenia. One answer to this mentioned in a Russian outlet, Znak, says that Russia learned its lessons from Ukraine, so it did not want to react sharply. But also, Russian authorities know well that Armenia cannot escape Russia’s economic and military grasp. The outlet also highlights the importance of Pashinyan stressing in his interviews that he does not plan to shift Armenia’s political path away from Russia, and that these several factors played a role.
According to an Armenia-based expert on Azerbaijanm Tatevik Hayrapetyan, who monitored media in the country during the Yerevan protests, reactions from official Azeri outlets were actually welcoming towards the changes in Armenia. She says these outlets hope that Armenians have finally realized that Serge Sarkisian is the enemy and now they expect a step forward in the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry went even a step further in announcing that they were ready to develop relations with healthy political group and solve the conflict.
“This way they tried to show that Armenia’s government was to be blamed for lack of solution in the conflict dismissing their own unwilling stance,” says Hayrapetyan. But she says the rhetoric of opposition groups and independent journalists has been different. “They were not just sending their congratulations, but also expressed the desire for their own peaceful revolution in Azerbaijan.” Journalist Khadija Ismayilova wrote, “Why is the victory of people always on their [Armenia’s] side?”
A Domino Effect on Local Activism
The winds of change brought on by Pashinyan’s premiership began even before his election took place. On May 7, Andreas Ghukasyan, a political prisoner charged for inciting mass riots in 2016 in the Sari Tagh district of Yerevan, was released. Also earlier this week, pupils and parents of one school in Armenia protested against the headmaster, who had allegedly locked the doors of the school in order to prevent students from participating in the protests. It was reported they succeeded in securing her resignation on May 5. A corruption investigation has also started.
Another head of an educational institution, the rector of Shirak State University, is also facing demonstrations and criticisms these days by students and some of ex-professors, who were fired as a result of voicing financial mismanagement by the administrator. Also yesterday, residents in Meghri prevented public hearings from taking place, the goal of which was to get the permission of locals for geological researches for a possible new mine exploitation.
The reactions to Pashinyan’s premiership have been overwhelmingly supportive here in Yerevan as well as throughout Armenia. They really love this guy, and believe that he will make Armenia’s situation a whole lot better. The folks out here are full of hope and joy, and it shows in their behavior and attitude.