Today marks nine days of mass protests that started after Nikol Pashinyan, finishing his walk from Gyumri, reached Yerevan and called for peaceful, non-violent disobedience against the appointment of Serge Sarkisian as the prime-minister and continuation of his and his political party’s rule after a decade as president. Throughout the week the protesters have been blocking various streets, squares, and public buildings. The movement has been particularly outstanding, due to the number of students and youth who have joined.
Tatevik Mktrchyan, a student at Yerevan State University, says that at the beginning it seemed that people didn’t believe the movement could grow, but over time, she and her peers developed trust. “Day after day, more people joined. All students who join this create a motivating atmosphere.” She noted that the process seemed democratic and felt the organizers were taking people’s concerns into account. “Even in his speeches, Nikol asks people to express their opinions. Maybe it’s just for show, but at least he asks. Oftentimes, we would discuss ideas with friends and it would end up coinciding with their decision, so you start to feel this is done for all of us, not just one person. There is a connection with the people”.
Arpi Manusyan, a sociologist, noted the difference between these protests and the ones that took place during Electric Yerevan in 2015. “I was very skeptical initially. When they started the walking campaign, I didn’t think it would grow into such a big movement. This time, there are a lot of activities and people are self-organizing, realizing political protest actions. Before, and even during the big protests like Electric Yerevan, there was a lot of performance. It was sort of romantic, or I would say, childish in its approach, as the people would make posters, which just felt like an opportunity for them to take more selfies. Currently, the goal is very concrete and political, people are fed up with Serge Sarkisian and his regime and they don’t want to tolerate it anymore. Even if Nikol is not clearly expressing a political agenda, I think this agenda is in the heads of the people.”
Karen Galstyan, another student from YSU, was convinced to join the movement when Pashinyan’s team recruited them at the University. “After Nikol’s team entered our university, talked about education, its quality,I understood there is an ideology behind this… and that this is done for the people and there is most probably a sense in all this. So I decided to come from morning till night here as long as I can to make sure I help this proactively.”
14-year-old Erik Harutyunyan says he joined the protests because he wants to have a brighter future. “I want to be part of the creation of a better republic. I would like people in Armenia to live well, earn well and ensure that those who live abroad and might be willing to come back are able to do so. I want people to live here prosperously and with dignity.” He also called for those who follow the events online to come and join the movement: “I ask you to join instead of writing comments online, including those of my age. We can do something when we all get together.”
Various groups have joined the movement, organizing their own protests and expressing their dissatisfaction with the current state. On April 18, several environmentalists gathered in front of the Ministry of Nature Protection highlighting the failures of this body in preventing the overall degradation of the environment which has led to decreased living standards in Armenia.
“In the past years the government is conducting a failed policy in many spheres, and particularly in the sphere of nature protection and this needs to be changed”, mentioned Levon Galstyan, environmentalist and founding member of Armenian Environmental Network civil initiative, “However, real change is possible only once the government and the decision makers are replaced, since time has shown that the current ones have failed in making decisions stemming from the interests of nature and common people. They have promised economic development, workplaces, improvement of life conditions, yet all we have is poisonous tails from mines, excessive use of water and drying of rivers, decreasing forests, migrating people, health problems, etc. Everyone sitting in these buildings and making these destructive decisions are responsible for this degradation”.
On April 20, a group of young women in their turn were blocking various central streets in Yerevan calling slogans like, “Serge Sarkisian is not our father, we don’t have a father” in response to a generally patriarchal atmosphere in Armenia, but also in response to vice president of the National Assembl, Eduard Sharmazanov’s statement that Republican party is one family and they have one father in the form of Serge Sarkisian.
“Women are very active this time and they are no longer ‘assistants’ of the movement, like it used to be before, when women would be considered as a ‘soft power,’ so the police wouldn’t detain them. Women are actors, and they act without waiting for men’s approval,” mentions Arpy Manusyan.
During his speech at a rally on April 20, Nikol Pashinyan made concrete demands that he said must be fulfilled in order to ensure the transformation of the political atmosphere.
- Serge Sarkisian should resign as the country’s prime minister.
- The National Assembly should appoint a new prime minister chosen by the people.
- A temporary government should be formed.
- Legislative changes should be made to the electoral code so that a fair and free election will take place, and a law on political parties
- Extra elections should take place.