YEREVAN—Police cordoned off streets across the city’s downtown on the morning of Saturday, April 27 in preparation for a day-long block party. The celebration was meant to commemorate the first anniversary of the peaceful Velvet Revolution, which successfully brought down the government of Serzh Sargsyan through a sustained civil disobedience campaign.
Festivities began in the morning with a tree-planting ceremony in Yerevan and continued with live performances, dance routines, parades and theater presentations throughout the day. Families strolled along the capital’s wide boulevards, while children made chalk drawings on the asphalt surrounding the Opera House. Similar scenes took place in towns and villages across the country.
Flanked by his wife Anna Hakobyan and senior staff, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan took part in the festivities wearing his signature “Dukhov” baseball cap. The Prime Minister spent much of the day roaming the streets of the capital, sampling the local khorovats, posing for pictures with supporters and dancing Kocharis with pedestrians. The general mood reflected that which had characterized the Revolution a year before which famously featured protesters dancing, cooking and partying on blocked thoroughfares.
Earlier that morning, the Prime Minister congratulated the nation on Facebook.
The holiday was not without its detractors, however. Even supporters of the Prime Minister interpreted the event as an unnecessary display of triumphalism. Incidentally, much of the criticism echoes that which supporters of Pashinyan’s party had lobbed at the previous government for frivolous spending on public celebrations, characterizing them as “bread and circus” events. The government has earmarked some 122 million AMD ($255,000) of taxpayer money from the State Budget for the festivities—about the same as the former regime—which some say could have been better spent on more urgent needs.
Galust Sahakyan, the septuagenarian former Speaker of the House under the Republican administration criticized the concept, telling reporters “You may as well call it a ‘villagers day’ while you’re at it.” The former MP did not elaborate on what he meant by that.
Those in favor of the holiday have dismissed accusations that the celebrations are politicized. “Citizens’ Day is not about celebrating the victory of any one party or politician; it’s about honoring the Armenian people’s emergence as a democratic and civil society,” said one event goer in her remarks to the Armenian Weekly. “The Velvet Revolution marks the dawn of a new era in Armenian history, regardless of who becomes our Prime Minister” interjected her husband. Others felt Citizen’s Day is a reminder that the country already has too many holidays, pointing to the fact that each year, it will fall on the last Saturday in April, thus avoiding any disruptions to the work week.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, President Armen Sarkissian praised the peaceful nature of last year’s mass demonstrations. He also cautioned that it’s still too soon to ascertain the Velvet Revolution’s legacy in the country. Sarkissian, a former diplomat and one-time prime minister, played a crucial role in the events of last April when he made an impromptu appearance at the protest site. He helped broker talks between the protesters and the government which paved the way for a peaceful transition. The president refers to those days as “Revolution: Armenian style.”
The day ended in Yerevan with a massive concert and a fireworks display.