On May 16, U.S. President Donald Trump sent congratulations to Armenia’s newly elected prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and said his administration will cooperate with the new Armenian government on “the many areas of mutual interest.” The State Department sent similar remarks hours after the President’s statement. Pashinian’s chief of staff, Eduard Aghajanian, welcomed the congratulatory letter from Trump and told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that a deepening of U.S.-Armenian ties is “inevitable.” “I am confident that our relations with all countries and the U.S. in particular have a very serious potential for development,” he said. Washington had closely monitored the recent dramatic developments in Armenia that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian and his replacement by Pashinyan.
The Armenian National Committee (ANCA) took the opportunity to highlight the clear difference between Trump’s message to Pashninyan and an earlier note to Azerbaijani President Aliyev—most notably that Trump’s Armenia letter opens with congratulations, while the Azerbaijan letter (conspicuously) does not congratulate Aliyev. “The meaningful contrast between the White House’s congratulatory letter to Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan and its pro forma note to President Aliyev—which did not even mention Azerbaijan’s deeply undemocratic election—may very well represent progress toward the ANCA’s long-term aim of ending the flawed policy of false parity that has, for far too long, characterized America’s approach to Armenia and Artsakh, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan on the other—on issues of peace, democracy, and development,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian in a statement.
Back in Yerevan, more than 30 protesters broke into the capital’s municipality building on Wednesday morning to continue protests against Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan. The protests over the past few days were fueled in large part to construction that was taking place in a nearby public park, in which trees were being cut down. Protesters were interrupted by police before reaching the mayor’s office, but sat blocking a corridor for nearly three hours, demanding that the mayor explain what they see as the park’s destruction and resign.
The construction was undertaken by a private charity called Vardanyan Family Benevolent Charity Foundation. The foundation released a video (below) explaining that the area in question will remain community-owned recreational area for Yerevan residents after construction and commercial activity will be prohibited. The maintenance and care of the park will always be implemented by the foundation. They also stated that only old and sick trees have been cut and that 48 healthy trees will be restored and put on the edge of the park.
Alen Simonian, a member of Yerevan’s municipal council representing Pashinian’s Yelk alliance, backed the protesters’ demands when he arrived at the municipality buidding. He said that Margaryan, who is affiliated with Serge Sarkisian’s Republican Party (RPA), must quit because he is part of a “political team” that has lost power in the country. Margaryan insisted that he is not obliged to quit because of the regime change in Armenia. “All over the world it’s not common practice for a political force to try to suppress elected local government bodies after coming to power,” he said. “We will continue our work. We will make Yerevan a better place.”
Pashinyan addressed the issue earlier today in a livestream message on his Facebook page, where he asked protesters, including those opposed to Mayor Margaryan, to bring their demonstrations to an end. “Now that there is a government in Armenia which took over with a popular mandate and for solving the people’s problems it is not quite understandable, to be honest, that we block roads and take other civil disobedience actions on a daily basis,” he said. “Who are we disobeying? … Ourselves? I don’t think it’s a right approach… I am calling on everyone to stop all civil disobedience actions from 3 p.m. today. But I’m not calling on you to go home and just sit there and come to terms with your problems,” he said. He encouraged citizens write messages with their complaints to his government, stating that the government needs time to address them.