2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution
The 2018 Armenian revolution (most commonly known in Armenia as Merzhir Serzhin (Armenian: Մերժիր Սերժին), were a series of anti-government protests in Armenia from April to May 2018 staged by various political and civil groups led by member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan (head of the Civil Contract party). Protests and marches took place initially in response to Serzh Sargsyan's third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in the government of the Armenia and later against the Republican Party-controlled government in general. Pashinyan declared it a Velvet Revolution (Թավշյա հեղափոխություն). On 23 April, Sargsyan conceded, saying "I was wrong, while Nikol Pashinyan was right" and resigned.The event is referred to by some as a peaceful revolution akin to revolutions in other post-Soviet states. By the evening of 25 April, the Republican Party’s coalition partner ARFDashnaktsutyun had withdrawn from the coalition. By 28 April, all of the opposition parties in Armenia's parliament had announced they would support Pashiniyan's candidacy. A vote was scheduled in the National Assembly for 1 May; for Pashiniyan to be elected Prime Minister, which required 53 votes, he would have had to win the votes of at least six members of the Republican Party. Pashinyan was the only candidate who was put forward for the vote. However, the Republican Party unanimously voted against Pashinyan – 102 MPs were present, out of which 56 voted against his candidacy and 45 voted for it. One week later, on 8 May, the second vote took place. Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister with 59 votes.
Nomination of Sargsyan for the post of Prime Minister Demonstrations and protests began in March 2018, when members of the Republican Party did not exclude the option of nominating Serzh Sargsyan for the prime minister's post. This meant a continuation of Sargsyan's rule (as either Prime Minister or President) since March 2007. He had amended the constitution in 2015 to remove term limits which would have prevented him doing this. Protesters had vowed to block the party's headquarters on 14 April, where leaders were going to gather to formally nominate Serzh Sargsyan for prime minister. The Republican Party held its meeting outside of capital Yerevan and unanimously voted to formally nominate Serzh Sargsyan for the office of prime minister. The coalition partner Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutyun (ARF-D) supported the ruling Republican Party’s decision, as did most of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party caucus.
Protests About 100 protesters stayed overnight on France Square after the first day of protests, and an equal number did the same on Saturday night, some sleeping in tents, others gathered around fires. As of Sunday morning, the Armenian police had made no effort to disrupt the demonstrations. On Monday 16 April, the "Take a Step, Reject Serzh" campaign began actions of civil disobedience. On 17 April, the day that the prime minister's election was scheduled, the protesters intended to block entrances to the building of the National Assembly in order to prevent the vote from taking place. Lines of riot police stopped them from advancing further towards the National Assembly building.
After the election of the former president Serzh Sargsyan as the new prime minister, the protests continued to grow, despite hundreds of people being detained by police.The prime minister in response asked the government to take back the presidential mansion which it had given him a few weeks earlier. The crowds reached 50,000on the night of 21 April, with countless sporadic street closures in the capital, which also began to spread across the country. As the crowds have grown, the new prime minister has called repeatedly for talks with the leader of the protest movement, Nikol Pashinyan, though Pashinyan has said he is only willing to discuss the terms of the Prime Minister's resignation. After Pashinyan's rally was visited by the Armenian President on the evening of 21 April for a brief chat with Pashinyan, Pashinyan agreed to meet the prime minister at 10 am on 22 April, saying he believed the topic would be Serzh Sargsyan's resignation. 22 April The meeting, which lasted for a mere three minutes, failed to achieve anything, with Sargsyan walking out of it and accusing the opposition of "blackmail". During the meeting, Sargsyan asked Pashinyan not to speak on behalf of the people and not to issue ultimatums to the government, given the low level of support for his political alliance (less than 10 percent of the vote). He also warned that Pashinyan had not "learned the lessons of March 1", a reference to the 10 protestors killed by police during protests of his election 10 years earlier, amounting to an open threat of violence. Immediately after the meeting, Pashinyan led a group of supporters from the site of the meeting by Republic Square on a long march down Tigran Mets and Artsakh streets to the Erebuni district, where they were met by riot police and stun grenades as Pashinyan was detained followed by mass detentions of protestors, including opposition lawmakers Sasun Mikayelyan and Ararat Mirzoyan. Protests continue throughout the city. By the evening 232 protestors had been arrested, and, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, tens of thousands gathered in Republic Square to continue to demand the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan. The police issued a statement saying that Pashinyan, Mikaelyan and Mirzoyan had been detained for 72 hours; criminal charges may only be brought against them if the Republican-controlled National Assembly strips them of their parliamentary immunity. 23 April Protests resumed on 23 April, with media outlets reporting that former and current members of the Armenian armed forces, including participants of the 2016 April War, have joined in the rallies for the first time. This information was later confirmed by the Ministry of Defence. Pashinyan was released at 3pm, and went directly to Republic Square where he spoke briefly, saying he would return at 6:30pm. By 4:30pm, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan had posted a message on the official website of the prime minister announcing his resignation. Former Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan succeeded Sargsyan as acting Prime Minister. 25 April
Pashinyan called for renewed protests on 25 April after talks with the Republican Party were cancelled due to Karapetyanâ€™s refusal to accept preconditions laid down by Pashinyan. Earlier Pashinyan stated that the Republican Party has no right to hold power in Armenia, and that the "people's candidate" should be appointed prime minister prior to holding snap elections. He added that the protest movement should nominate this transitional prime minister, a position that is rejected by the current government as it would violate the law. Protesters took to the streets to block the road to Yerevanâ€™s international airport and the road leading to the border with Georgia. Meanwhile, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation both seem to have declared their support for Pashinyan's movement, with the latter pulling out of the ruling coalition. Pashiniyan has vowed to continue the protests until he is appointed prime minister. 1 May Parliament held elections for a new Prime Minister, with the opposition leader Pashinyan the only nominee, as over 100,000 people watched the 9 hour session being broadcast live at Republic Square. However the majority party blocked his nomination by voting against him with one exception. After the election, prominent Armenian singers such as Iveta Mukuchyan and Sona Shahgeldyan performed for the crowd and made inspiring speeches. Pashinyan walked to Republic Square and told the crowd to go on strike the next day, and block all transportation from 8:15 in the morning until 5 in the evening, then gather for another rally at 7pm in Republic Square. 2 May
The nation ground to a halt as countless streets and highways were peacefully blocked throughout the nation, and many workers and businesses went on strike. The main airport access road was cut off, with some workers striking, and even land crossings were blocked. 150,000 people gathered in Republic Square to listen to Pashinyan speak, and were told that he had been informed that due to the strike, the ruling party had decided to support his candidacy in the next round of voting on 8 May. Protests were suspended in the meantime. 8 May On May 8 Parliament again had a vote on a new Prime Minister, and again Nikol Pashinyan was the only candidate. This time the majority Republican party gave Pashinyan enough votes to win with a 59-42 margin. All the votes against Pashinyan still came from the Republican party.
Reactions On 4 April Edmon Marukyan, leader of the Bright Armenia party, which cooperates with the Civil Contract party lead by Nikol Pashinyan in the Way Out Alliance published an article in Aravot newspaper, in which he stated his preference of formal means of counteraction to the ruling coalition over civil disobedience actions. Leader of the Free Democrats party and former MP Khachatur Kokobelyan attended protests and expressed his support for the actions. Many cultural figures have already declared solidarity with the opposition movement. In particular, well-known musician Serj Tankian of System of a Down addressed the activists declaring his solidarity and support, stressing the impermissibility of one-party rule in Armenia. Some organizations of the diaspora, in particular the Congress of Armenians of Europe, also expressed support for the opposition. International reactions European Union: On 24 April the head of the EU Delegation to Armenia hailed the success in the civic disobedience campaign in the country, promising a more intensive process towards the ratification of Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. Georgia: Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia, released a video on 23 April congratulating the Armenian people on Sargsyan's resignation. He stated: "Today you have every right to be proud of yourself, to be proud of the fact that you are Armenians, the proud people who could prove to the whole world that they have dignity, that they want to live in normal human conditions, free from corruption. Armenia has a great future; today I was convinced of it again. I support you, we will always be with you. Well done!" He also claimed that the movement is a "rebellion against Russia". Russia: Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova praised the peaceful transition, adding that "Armenia, Russia is always with you!" A statement on FM official web page reads: "We hope that the situation will develop exclusively in the legal and constitutional field, and all political forces will show responsibility and readiness for a constructive dialogue. We are convinced that the prompt return of life in the country to normal and the restoration of public accord meet the fundamental interests of the fraternal Armenia." United States: On 23 April US Ambassador Richard Mills praised the Armenian police and anti-government protesters led by Nikol Pashinyan for avoiding bloodshed during their standoff that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. A statement by the US State Department expressed hope that his successor will be chosen in a transparent and constitutional manner. The statement also called on Armeniaâ€™s leading political groups to â€œavoid an escalation of the situation and any violent actions.â€? Protests were held by Armenians in various communities of the United States, with 5,000 protesters gathering in solidarity with those protesting in Armenia on April 22 and additional protests being held on other days, including May 8.
Why Armenia 'Velvet Revolution' won without a bullet fired Peaceful mass protests have brought a watershed moment to Armenia, a small landlocked, post-Soviet nation. An opposition politician who harnessed a revolution has lost a vote in parliament to become prime minister, but his movement has ousted Armenia's leader and raised hopes of free and fair elections. When Nikol Pashinyan, 42, set off on his "My Step" protest march on 31 March from Armenia's second city Gyumri, sporting his trademark khaki T-shirt, only a couple of dozen people joined him, and they were mainly journalists. By the time the MP and ex-journalist had reached the capital Yerevan on 13 April, thousands more had joined his movement. For many Armenians this is the first time since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 that they are able to believe in a better future. When a barman in your hotel opens a cupboard and pulls out the national flag to show that he supports the protest movement, you know something is fundamentally changing. So too for the 17-year-old school student skipping class to attend two weeks of rallies, because he wants access to a better education; the villagers in remote areas who feel that their voices are finally being heard; and the 12-year-old children blocking roads in an act of nationwide civil disobedience.
"We've tried to protest in the past so many times, but those protests did not lead to any changes and people lost hope," says Mher Gabrelyan, the barman with the flag. "It's different this time because at last there is someone helping to lead us." How Armenia's revolution unfolded 13 April - Thousands take to streets of Yerevan as Nikol Pashinyan's 14-day protest march arrives 17 April - As daily protests continue Serzh Sargsyan is elected Armenian prime minister by parliament, eight days after his two-term presidency ended 22 April - Nikol Pashinyan detained after talks collapse with Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan 23 April - Nikol Pashinyan released and Serzh Sargsyan resigns, admitting "I got it wrong"; soldiers join protests 27 April - The man appointed acting PM, Karen Karapetyan, rejects new talks 29 April - Ruling party says it will not pick a candidate to challenge opposition leader 1 May - Ruling Republican party refuses to back Nikol Pashinyan Armenia - history and politics
Serzh Sargsyan (L) refused to resign during talks with the protest leader
Why did the protests start? It was in 2008 that Serzh Sargsyan came to power as president amidst violent suppression of anti-government protests in which at least 10 people were killed. Fast forward 10 years. At the end of his second presidential term Serzh Sargsyan was about to become prime minister - a new and enhanced role, after changes to the constitution were passed by a 2015 referendum marred by widespread irregularities. It was a miscalculation, because many Armenians regarded his move essentially as a third presidential term by the backdoor. Tens of thousands, mainly students and high-school children, poured on to the streets chanting "Make the step to reject Serzh". "Most protesters are students who are unhappy about what's happening in the country," says protester and young IT specialist Ruben Elanakyan. "They are not the ones who grew up with Soviet propaganda, they are more free and that's why we are demanding our rights more freely." Is this a rejection of Russia? Much of what has happened here is unprecedented in any part of the former Soviet Union, including Russia's muted reaction to events. Russia has a military base here and patrols the border with Turkey. Armenia is a member of President Vladimir Putin's Eurasian Economic Union and is part of Russia's regional military alliance. It has an unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and depends on Russia for security.
So Russia's stake in this country of 2.9 million people is significant. But Nikol Pashinyan has met a delegation of Russian MPs and gone out of his way to pledge deeper relations with Russia, as well as with Armenia's neighbours, the EU, US and China. Although Serzh Sargsyan was seen as an ally of President Putin, the leader of Armenia's self-styled Velvet Revolution says he has been promised that Russia will not intervene. That is in marked contrast with Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution and Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution. "It's not a colour revolution," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. "Everybody understands that the roots of this crisis in Armenia are domestic - unlike several previous cases in the post-Soviet space, where international presence was pretty clear." Russia knows that even if this pro-democracy movement prevails and Armenia embarks on a less corrupt chapter of its history, the country's economic and military dependence on Moscow will not change. After Nikol Pashinyan's failure to secure the support of the ruling party, what happens next is unclear. But he accused the party of waging "war against its own people" and said it had utterly destroyed itself.
Did Armenia just dance its way to revolution?
Ousting your prime minister can be seriously hard work. But it should be fun, too. That is the impression Armenia gave in recent weeks, where hundreds of thousands staged anti-government rallies, part of a bloodless revolution in the small country that managed to throw off -- at least, so far -- authoritarian rule. And when the people in the country of 3 million were not blocking highways, going on strike and waving the tricolor Armenian flag, they were engaged in an activity altogether unassociated with revolution: dancing. Since charismatic opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan began the protests in mid-April, the Armenian capital, Yerevan, has been engulfed in carnivalesque street parties, filled with mostly young people rebelling against what they saw as a corrupt, ruling elite. Their pro-democracy movement managed to force Serzh Sargsyan to step down as prime minister, after more than a decade in power. With folk music blasting from the stereos of parked cars, groups of protesters would break off from the crowds to link arms and cavort in concentric circles.
Sometimes, men shakily hoisted each other onto their shoulders to rapturous applause from fellow revelers. Demonstrators also performed the traditional kochari dance, holding hands and crossing their legs in unison to the melodies of string and wind instruments.
“We’re Armenian. We dance when we’re happy,” 24-year-old design student Sona told me, clapping and swaying her hips one recent sun-bleached afternoon. “And showing this government that they can’t deceive us,” she said near the oval-shaped traffic circle in central Yerevan, “makes us very happy.” Armenians feel strongly about their dancing, seeing it as a bond between the country and the scattered diaspora. Armenian dance ensembles regularly perform from Los Angeles to Moscow, and elaborate dance routines are part of traditional Armenian wedding ceremonies. Last year, UNESCO placed the Armenian kochari dance on a cultural heritage list. Performance at the revolution was not limited to dancing: a group of musicians, including violinists and cellists, blocked the entrance to the Ministry of Culture this week, where they played harmonies Pashinyan, raffish at 42 and often dressed in a uniform of sorts -- a camouflage T-shirt, backpack and black cap -- has hailed the movement as proof of Armenia’s “people power.” When Sargsyan resigned, he wrote in a tersely worded statement, “I was wrong. The street movement is against my tenure” -rare words to be uttered by a leader in the former Soviet space. The people’s revolution is still underway. On May 1, the Armenian parliament voted against making Pashinyan, who was the sole candidate, prime minister, and a new vote will be held on May 8. Under instructions from their leader, the protesters are now taking a break, to “save their strength.” They will certainly need it.
Leader Of Armenia's 'Velvet Revolution' Takes Power After Weeks Of Protests
Three weeks ago, things in Armenia were proceeding roughly as expected. Serzh Sargsyan had just followed his two terms as president by winning election as the country's prime minister, largely on the strength of his ruling Republican Party. He had been in power for a decade, and recent constitutional changes to boost the premier's authority had made the office an enticing way to retain that power while still observing term limits. And if there were crowds in the streets protesting — even then — what did they compare to the authority entrenched in the halls of the National Assembly? Now, that question has been answered — but not the way one might have anticipated. On Tuesday, half a month after Sargsyan stepped down under popular pressure, Armenian lawmakers elected rough-hewn protest leader, Nikol Pashinyan, 42, to be the country's next prime minister. It was Pashinyan's second attempt in the span of a week, after he failed to win the Republican Party's support. This time around the party relented to the tens of thousands of Pashinyan's supporters in the capital, Yerevan, who cheered the balding former journalist known for his ratty camouflage T-shirt and graying beard. The National Assembly voted 59-42 to make him premier. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian then signed the decree appointing Pashinyan to the position. "Your victory is not that I was elected as prime minister of Armenia," he told the crowd in Republic Square after the vote, according to a New York Times translation, "your victory is that you decided who should be prime minister of Armenia."
During the weeks of unrest leading to this moment, Pashinyan had repeatedly called the protest movement a "nonviolent velvet revolution," comparing the demonstrations to the peaceful 1989 revolt that ended Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. Reuters reports that, now that the movement has achieved its aims, Pashinyan said he would pursue an aggressive anti-corruption campaign â€” but that there would also be no "pogrom" against holdovers from the ruling party. The majority Republican Party, meanwhile, accepted Pashinyan's election with ambivalence, bowing to the demands of the crowds but explaining that it would become the principal opposition party. "We do not consider it expedient to cooperate with the new government," party member Armen Ashotyan said Tuesday, as translated by The Associated Press, "it would be hypocritical to consider the issue of our participation in the new government." The new leader of the landlocked former Soviet republic received a much warmer embrace from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. Pashinyan has promised to maintain Armenia's partnership with the regional heavyweight to the north, which stations military in Armenia and helps buoy the small country financially. And Putin, who just inaugurated a new term as president himself, quickly congratulated Pashinyan. "I expect that your work as the head of government will contribute to further strengthening the friendly, allied relations between our countries," the Russian president said in his message. Pashinyan's polemics against the powerful as a longtime newsman brought him his first glints of fame and even some time in prison. Now that he has taken power himself, his fellow lawmakers still view him with caution â€” a caution his supporters have largely exchanged for hope. "We chose a new road in Armenia where the driver will be the people and not clans," one middle-aged demonstrator told the AP on Tuesday. "Jobs will appear, people will return, corruption will disappear"
Armeniaâ€™s revolution continues, as its opposition leader nears power
IT LOOKS more like a carnival than a revolution. Instead of burning tyres and mounting barricades, young people wrap themselves in Armenian flags, dance in the streets and block the roads by playing volleyball or simply sitting on carpets. On the morning of a general strike, a five-year-old boy drove a toy car with an Armenian flag through an empty street. In the evening, vast construction trucks loaded with students drove and hooted through Yerevan. But behind the street theatre lies a velvet revolution led by a young generation of Armenians against an old guard who have controlled the country since its independence in 1991. Their victory is not yet complete, but their anticipation of success seems likely to be self-fulfilling. On May 1st, in an attempt to hold out, the ruling party blocked the election as prime minister by parliament of Nikol Pashinian, the leader of a three-weekold protest that has galvanised the entire former Soviet republic of some 3m people. A dozen pro-government MPs desperately tried to discredit him as a dangerous anti-Russia candidate, unacceptable to the Kremlin, which has a tight economic and military grip over Armenia. But Moscow was silent, confident of its strategic hold on Armenia and unwilling to back the losing side.
Armenia’s revolution continues, as its opposition leader nears power That evening Mr Pashinian addressed tens of thousands of people who filled in the main Republic square. “Beloved nation, proud citizens of Armenia. People in parliament have lost the sense of reality. They don’t understand that 250,000 people who came onto the streets in Armenia have already won. Power in Armenia belongs to you—and not to them.” His words sparked jubilation. To prove his point and his strength, Mr Pashinian called a general strike paralysing the city and the country. A few hours later, on May 2nd, the ruling party appeared to cave in, implying it would back him in next week’s parliamentary session. It may still spring a nasty surprise, but is unlikely to regain control over the country—at least not for now. Mr Pashinian has led a textbook velvet revolution, made possible by textbook mistakes by the government, which tried to hang onto power after losing its legitimacy. Mr Pashinian managed to personify Armenians’ resentment against a corrupt elite. Donning Che Guevara-style fatigues, he went around the country on foot, preaching non-violent protest. By doing so, he decentralised the revolution, making it virtually impossible for the authorities to quash. In the capital he appealed to students and young people with no memories of the Soviet past, but a strong sense of dignity and justice. Mr Pashinian’s brief detention doubled the size of the crowds in the streets, leading the prime minister to resign last week and perhaps making Mr Pashinian unstoppable. Crucially, the challenger avoided any subject such as ideology or geopolitics that could divide the country and antagonise Russia. Unlike the revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in 2004 and again in 2014, which were fought under the slogans of joining Europe and NATO, Mr Pashinian talked strictly about internal matters like corruption and justice, which everyone can agree on. He made populist promises and pledged that Armenia will remain with Russia’s security arrangements. Not a single European flag was waved in Yerevan and no slogan pronounced Armenia’s European destiny. But the fear of mentioning Russia-related subjects only highlighted Russia’s importance. While Moscow clearly distrusts revolutionaries, it has so far decided not to interfere in Armenia, hoping that inflated expectations and lack of money will do their own damage. “It has been the smartest Kremlin policy I’ve seen for years,” says Alexander Iskandaryan, the head of the Caucasus Institute, a think-tank. Armen Grigoryan, one of the revolution’s leaders says, “All the stars were aligned, and even Saturn moved into the same position it was in 1988.” That was when protests in Armenia provided the first rumblings of the storm that was to bring down the Soviet empire three years later.
'He's not a populist, he's popular': Nikol Pashinyan becomes Armenian PM Protest leader elected by parliamentary vote after leading weeks of peaceful demonstrations
Exactly a month ago, Nikol Pashinyan was walking from village to village across Armenia in a desperate protest against a power grab by the countryâ€™s prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan. On Tuesday Pashinyan, a fiery political orator who has spent the past decade in street politics, was himself elected as prime minister in a 59-42 vote in parliament, capping weeks of peaceful mass protests. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was among the first to congratulate him. Pashinyan has offered assurances that he will not break with the Kremlin.
It has been an unlikely rise to power in the post-Soviet republic of about 3 million for the former newspaper editor. Before April, the ruling Republican party’s stranglehold on Armenian politics had appeared intact, with Sargsyan newly installed as prime minister after term limits forced him to step down as president after 10 years. But governance changes that in tandem bolstered the prime minister’s office led to accusations that Sargsyan had manipulated the constitution to cling to power. Pashinyan and other activists brought out tens of thousands of people on to the streets for protests that paralysed the capital, Yerevan. Sargsyan resigned on 23 April in a stunning concession to the opposition. Pashinyan, who had been detained and then released from jail during the protests, called for snap elections to choose a new “people’s prime minister”. Supporters say Pashinyan, who was also imprisoned after opposition rallies in 2008 turned deadly, is among history’s great peaceful revolutionaries. “You can absolutely compare him with historical figures like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela,” said Eduard Aghajanyan, a city council member from Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, and one of Pashinyan’s young, westerneducated advisers. It has been a dangerous road for Pashinyan. He was expelled from university in 1995
for his political activities, and faced libel charges as the editor-in-chief of Haykakan Zhamanak in 2000. His car was blown up in an apparent assassination attempt in 2004, and in 2008 he spent months in hiding after being accused of instigating political protests that ended with 10 people dead. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 but was released the following year under an amnesty. He has publicly fallen out with other opposition leaders such as the former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. In private, detractors say Pashinyan is a novice when it comes to working in government and unwilling to compromise. He entered parliament in 2016 as a member of a coalition of opposition parties. “The main question is whether Nikol Pashinyan the revolutionary can become Nikol Pashinyan the prime minister,” said Emil Danielyan, a journalist and political analyst in Yerevan. He has a flair for the theatrical. Last month Pashinyan told Sargsyan in face-to-face discussions that he had “come to discuss your resignation”. Sargsyan called the demand “political blackmail” and walked out of negotiations. Pashinyan has however shown a deft political touch over the past month, running a gauntlet of thorny political questions including whether Armenia should maintain close ties with Russia and whether there should be a purge of former ruling party officials and a criminal trial into the deaths of protesters in 2008.
In an interview with the Guardian during the protests, Pashinyan said dark political forces had been trying to derail Armenia’s peaceful revolution. His aides said Karen Karapetyan, the prime minister from September 2016 until last month, and who is close to Russia, had sought backroom deals to derail a vote last week for Pashinyan to become PM, which he lost. “Some forces are trying to engage us into political bargaining and propose me to become prime minister but ensure and guarantee the continuation of the existing system,” Pashinyan said. “And for me, my goal isn’t to become prime minister. My goal is bring real changes to Armenia.” He spoke of plans to further open Armenia to foreign business and break the control over certain industries held by businessmen close to the previous regime. Still, he and his supporters have largely skirted policy discussions in favour of rallying cries for reform in the poor country of about 3 million people, which borders Turkey and Iran and is locked in a simmering territorial conflict with another neighbour, Azerbaijan. There is a touch of the populist in Pashinyan – he has donned a camouflage T-shirt for some speeches, but returned to a suit for negotiations with other parties. “He is not a populist. He is popular,” said Ararat Mirzoyan, a fellow member of Civil Contract, who was arrested with Pashinyan last month. Mirzoyan said he had seen Pashinyan grow as a leader in recent years as the two worked together in parliament. Asked about the party’s specific policies, he said: “Only once we achieve fundamental reforms can we begin talking about the changes for the future sector by sector.”
He Was a Protester a Month Ago. Now, Nikol Pashinyan Leads Armenia.
YEREVAN, Armenia — Nikol Pashinyan, who led the nonviolent protest movement that improbably toppled the government of Armenia, had just ended a brief interview and headed into another room when he whirled around. “Would you like to eat?” he asked, beckoning to a table scattered with plastic cartons holding takeout pork kebabs wrapped in paperlike bread, as well as tomato and cucumber salad. “This kind of lunch is the usual for us for the past month; we have not gotten back to civilized ways.” If whirlwind events of the past month are any guide, Armenia might never get back to its old ways, civilized or not. On Tuesday, Mr. Pashinyan became Armenia’s interim prime minister, when a Parliament dominated by his political foes elected him by a 59to-42 vote.
After vowing to remake the country’s political and economic systems, Mr. Pashinyan told a cheering throng in the central Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital, that, “Your victory is not that I was elected as prime minister of Armenia; your victory is that you decided who should be prime minister of Armenia.” Tens of thousands had gathered in the square, cheering wildly and waving the country’s red, blue and orange flag as the vote was broadcast live on giant monitors. On March 31, Mr. Pashinyan, 42, a balding man with a salt-and-pepper beard and slight paunch, began a quixotic walk across central Armenia to protest an effort by the president to skirt term limits. Few paid much attention at first. Yet within three weeks, Mr. Pashinyan, a former newspaper editor and political prisoner, had galvanized a civil disobedience movement that transformed the country’s political landscape. It forced the retirement of Serzh Sargsyan, the president for the past decade, and shoved aside the longdominant Republican Party. It was the most sweeping change in this small, landlocked country of about 2.8 million people in the southern Caucasus since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mr. Pashinyan’s election on Tuesday was all the more remarkable because it happened in the backyard of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who sent his congratulations.
Mr. Pashinyan, right, a former newspaper editor and political prisoner, at his office in Parliament on Sunday. He galvanized a nationwide movement of civil disobedience that transformed Armenia’s political landscape. Popular protests tend to alarm Mr. Putin, and he has invaded other former Soviet states, Georgia and Ukraine, where he saw Russian interests and influence being threatened. Russia considers Armenia of such strategic importance that it maintains a military base in the country, and helps guard Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran. But by focusing on strictly domestic problems while pledging eternal brotherhood with Moscow, Mr. Pashinyan deftly avoided a military intervention by the Kremlin. “There are no foreign forces involved in this process,” Mr. Pashinyan said over lunch. “I have insisted many times that there is no geopolitical context to our movement, our velvet revolution.” If many Armenians find it nothing short of miraculous that their country seems transformed overnight, Mr. Pashinyan described it as the culmination of a journey that began some 20 years ago.
As a journalism student at Yerevan State University, he wrote screeds against corruption, and was expelled in 1995 before he could graduate. He later become the editor in chief of the newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, where he continued polemical attacks against politicians and rich businessmen. His car, a Lada Niva, was set on fire outside the newspaper’s offices in 2004. In 2008, he helped organize street protests against what many considered a tainted presidential election. Some still blame him for bloody clashes that resulted in the deaths of 10 people, although he denies provoking the violence. “I didn’t trust him,” said Anahit Sahakyan, 42, the owner of the bohemian Ilik cafe in central Yerevan. “He would shout, ‘They treat you like slaves! They treat you like dogs!’ He was trying to arouse the animal instincts in people. I didn’t like it.” Wanted by the government, Mr. Pashinyan went on the lam for 16 months. “That was the hardest time we experienced,” said his wife, Anna Hakobyan, 40, who met him in journalism school. A security services officer moved into their apartment, in case he showed up.
Anna Hakobyan, Mr. Pashinyan’s wife, and their daughters Arpi and Shushan, right, at the family’s apartment on Sunday. Wanted by the government, Mr. Pashinyan went on the lam for 16 months. “That was the hardest time we experienced,” Ms. Hakobyan said.
With Mr. Pashinyan in hiding, Ms. Hakobyan took over the newspaper, while also caring for their three children; they now have four. She did not see him for six months, but she heard from him — he sent notes accusing her of destroying the paper, along with occasional praise. “That was stressful,” she said, laughing. Eventually, she would visit him for a few days, changing cars as she moved across Yerevan to lose the officers tailing her. “Just like the movies,” she said. In 2009, Mr. Pashinyan turned himself in, and was sentenced to seven years in prison, thrown in with violent criminals. One night, two masked men entered his cell and kicked him to the ground. “I am proud that I experienced it and was able to stay true to myself in that strange environment under all different kinds of pressure,” he said. He learned English and read a lot. When he returned to their modest, two-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up after a 2011 amnesty, he was a stranger to their daughter, Shushan, who had been an infant when he was locked up. “What is Daddy for?” she asked, puzzled. Elected to Parliament in 2012, he joined a weak alliance of nine opposition members. He infuriated many opposition activists in 2015 by not opposing the governing party’s move to alter the Constitution, shifting most presidential powers to the prime minister. Last month, term limits forced Mr. Sargsyan to step down as president, but he held onto power by having Parliament elect him prime minister, despite his pledge not to seek that office. When his plan became clear, Mr. Pashinyan began preparing his protest. “I understood that the best way to prevent violence is to be nonviolent,” he said. Drawing inspiration from Nelson Mandela and from Gandhi’s famous 1930 walk across India to protest British taxation, Mr. Pashinyan decided to walk around 120 miles across Armenia from Gyumri, the second-largest city, to Yerevan.
Opponents mocked him for wearing a camouflage-pattern T-shirt, accusing him of trying to disguise his lack of military service. He laughed off the criticism, and the shirt became a signature.
Mr. Pashinyan during a march in April. Wearing a beard and camouflage-pattern T-shirt, Mr. Pashinyanâ€™s signature look helped set him apart from the slick haircuts and suits favored by the governing party.
His beard and clothes set him apart from the slick haircuts and suits favored by the governing party. His supporters saw his look as fitting for a man they described as down-to-earth, smart, spontaneous and far less volatile then he had been in his youth. Students were already protesting by the time he reached Yerevan on April 13, and the crowds grew with each step the government took. On April 17, Mr. Sargsyan became prime minister, and on April 22 he tried to decapitate the protest movement by having Mr. Pashinyan detained.
Instead, hundreds of thousands of Armenians took to the streets, shouting “Nikol! Nikol!” Bowing to pressure, Mr. Sargsyan stepped down. The demonstrations swelled, with Mr. Pashinyan, again free, stressing that if the police used force, protesters should just raise their hands and surrender. He told the police repeatedly that they were friends and fellow Armenians. Many of those who had been skeptical became supporters. “He is one of the few political guys in Armenia who really changed,” said Samvel Martirosyan, a specialist in internet security and a veteran political observer. “He became smarter, calmer, he speaks really well.” On May 1, the governing party, which holds 58 out of 105 seats in Parliament, voted down his bid to become interim prime minister. So Mr. Pashinyan went to Yerevan’s central Republic Square, the throbbing heart of the protests, where an estimated 250,000 people had gathered, and called for a nationwide strike at 8:15 the next morning.
Supporters brought the country to a halt, joking that it was a measure of Mr. Pashinyan’s influence that he could make Armenians do things on time. Parliament met again on Tuesday to choose a leader, and this time Mr. Pashinyan prevailed. He said his first priority was to organize the first fair parliamentary elections in many years. Mr. Pashinyan has vowed to break up the cozy system of oligarchic monopolies and invigorate an economy that has left a third of the country in poverty. After 30 years of fighting with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region both countries claim, he has said he will make the enclave part of Armenia. He brushes aside fears that he has set expectations so high that he is bound to disappoint. “I am in a working mood, there is no sense of euphoria, just work to do,” Mr. Pashinyan said. “If we were able to do the impossible, that means we will be able to do the difficult.”
Nikol Pashinyan: “The process of building a free and happy Armenia is irreversible”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attended the annual meeting of Hayastan All-Armenian Fund (HAAF) Board of Trustees. The following in the unedited official translation of his address. Your Holiness, Honorable President of the Republic of Armenia, Honorary President of the Republic of Artsakh, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am glad for this opportunity and am happy to see you in the capital city of Yerevan. Since its inception, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund has been supporting Armenia’s newly established Republic. It actually played a crucial role in the first years of independence. During the years that followed the Fund’s role was as much important, and I think that the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund acted as the indicator of Diaspora’s confidence in Armenia’s authorities. When analyzing the activities of the Fund, one can get serious indications as to what processes are going on in the Diaspora, what kind of concerns are emerging and what kind of solutions can be given to such concerns. Of course, the political developments that took place in Armenia in April-May gave fresh impetus to our national consolidation, and we must do everything to make sure that consolidation becomes a political product and a permanent political factor.
We have already announced the Governmentâ€™s priorities, the most important of which is the preservation of the flair for victory in the citizens of the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people in order to give it a permanent character. The biggest political issue in our country used to be the enforcement of our citizensâ€™ right to form a government, since I believe that the problems went worsening from the moment when the public started not to trust the outcome of elections. And therefore, we are facing the challenge of ensuring that after each election the citizen of the Republic of Armenia is on the winning side rather than a specific political force. I want to emphasize that another top priority for our government is the fight against corruption, ranging from electoral fraud to corruption in the system of public administration and the judiciary. I wish to state that the Government has already taken successful steps to that effect. The process shall continue until we all realize that corruption has been eradicated as a systemic phenomenon in the Republic of Armenia. Finally, perhaps our most important conceptual and ideological problem is to give an applicable definition to the Republic of Armenia as a State. When the Republic of Armenia was being founded in 1991, it seemed that everything was fine, but I feel that we have committed a conceptual failure. We did not clearly state why the Armenian people founded the Republic of Armenia as a State. I want to emphasize that the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia has not changed as a result of all the preceding amendments to the Constitution. That is, the preamble of the Constitution remains the same, stipulating that the Republic of Armenia has been founded by the Armenian people, and not by the citizens of the Republic of Armenia, or the citizens of Soviet Armenia. Therefore, the Armenian people should be the sole beneficiary of the Republic of Armenia, and we have to answer one important question: why the Armenian people have founded the Republic of Armenia? We are convinced that the Republic of Armenia was established by the Armenian people for the following purposes: concentrating the human, financial, intellectual, scientific, economic, spiritual potential of the Armenian people or its significant part on its own territory and ensuring security and natural development for that potential.