Portraits of Pashinyan’s Yerevan
Text by Karine Vann
Yesterday, Nikol Pashinyan transitioned from opposition leader to Armenia’s leader. After a month of peaceful protest, citizens gathered in Republic Square in downtown Yerevan to celebrate his nomination to the coveted role of prime minister. Responding to an unofficial call for visual unity, many attendees wore white, symbolizing their hope that Pashinyan’s election would bring a new page in the country’s history.
Throughout this movement, in fact, messaging has been critical. Different slogans have emerged, like for example, “dukhov,” an Armenian slang word borrowed from Russian that was written on Pashinyan’s hat throughout the protests. The word translates roughly to “with courage.” It was also the slogan of the 2016 April War.
But on May 8, all different kinds of messaging could be found. This man, for example, wore a shirt calling for freedom for political prisoners.
Foreshadowing Pashinyan’s victory on May 8, people came gathered in Republic Square armed with champagne and prepared to celebrate. This was in stark contrast to the results of elections a week earlier.
On May 1, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia—which holds 58 of Armenia’s 105 seats in parliament—voted against Pashinyan. The country launched into full-scale revolt. The next day, people went on mass strike. Roads were closed. Folks were barbecuing in the streets. The minister of culture resigned. Republicans finally relented and announced they would provide at least 10 votes to allow Pashinyan to win the May 8 election.
Many have also highlighted the role of youth in the movement, and commended Pashinyan’s ability to create a campaign that resonated with a younger generation of Armenians, who were born in an independent Armenia, as opposed to a Soviet one.
The protests extended far beyond the nation’s capital, and well into the towns and villages across Armenia. On the day of Pashinyan’s election, villagers from the Aragatsotn region kept with the day’s color theme by bringing white snow to Yerevan from Mount Aragats, a storied, four-peaked mountain in central Armenia.
Ethnic minorities have also been involved these last few weeks. Yazidis, for example, were present at the May 8 rally, holding their national flag and expressing support for the movement.
Pashinyan has adamantly stated this election is not his victory, but the people’s. For the first time, he says, citizens are leading the country. Many have used the term “new Armenia” to describe this transition, implying that Armenia is finally, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a free and independent nation.
But there’s much left to accomplish. The Republican party members still occupy a majority of the parliament. Pashinyan has made many ambitious promises, like fixing the deeply corrupted electoral process. In the meantime, however, upon hearing word of Pashinyan’s election, the nation’s capital erupts in a flurry of historic selfies. People have earned the right to be joyful.