Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Armenia: Revolution of love and dignity

Armenia’s discredited ruling party finally gives way to allow opposition leader Nikol Pashinian, leader of the revolution, to be elected prime minister. Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian writes about a nation’s determination


Prime Minister Pashinian victorious

For the second time in less than three weeks, the people of Armenia came out victorious in a bloodless revolution made and signed by them.

Opposition leader  and parliament member Nikol  Pashinian, 42, was elected Armenia’s new prime minister. He received 59 votes out of 102, with 42 votes against him, in the second round of a special parliamentary session Tuesday.

Armenian people in joy and celebrations

Republic Square erupted again into joy and celebrations as the voting results were shown on huge screens. Again, people power prevailed. “Nikol, Nikol”, “victory, victory,” were chanted by tens of thousands amid tricolour flags and balloons and white doves released into the air. The national anthem performed by thousands echoed stronger than ever.

“Victory is not that I am the prime minister today; victory is that you made this choice today,” Pashinian said in his address to the people celebrating in the square.

Men danced "Kochari" the day Sargsyan resigned

Last week, after Armenians danced in the streets and toppled a corrupt dictator, Serje Sargsyan — president for the past 10 years and seven-day prime minister  — parliament failed to make the revolution’s leader, Pashinian, prime minister at the first round of voting 1 May.

After almost nine hours of a parliamentary meeting that was supposed to vote on one candidate, the session came out against making Pashinian premier. Pashinian received 45 votes while he had to reach 53. During the session, Pashinian was heavily and aggressively questioned from MPs.

Often dressed in a camouflage t-shirt — a suit on official days of meetings — carrying a backpack and a black cap, Pashinian called for a general strike in response to parliament failing to elect him.

“The Republican Party has destroyed itself irreversibly and has announced war against its own people,” Pashinian said after the parliament first session.

The revolution became a matter of national pride. The people of a country that proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and struggled to build democracy since then, expressed their disappointment against the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) in several ways — determined, civilised and also creative.

Artmenia’s capital brought to standstill. Demonstrators approached RPA members’ residences and put banners on entranceways that read “Shame”. Others placed coffins and flower bouquets at the party’s headquarters.

“Armenia stands out as an exception, as a rare case of successful ‘people power’, marked by a victorious case of non-violent demonstrations overthrowing an entrenched leader and choosing their favourite one,” Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Centre (RSC) in Yerevan, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Civil disobedience and strikes reached the capital’s airport. Students of Yerevan Conservatory marched in the streets playing the music of 18th-19th century Armenian composer Gomidas, father and founder of Armenian National School of Music, till they reached the Ministry of Culture and forced the minister to resign. Mothers blocked the streets of Yerevan standing behind their infants’ strollers. Children played and placed matchbox toy cars in line in the streets in protest. Men were enjoying their favourite games, chess and backgammon, while barbers were cutting hair in open space.

A slogan that was usually used in past protests, “The country is not a country”, was changed to “We are the owners of our country”. The days Pashinian announced people should be resting or working, protesters took to the streets holding bin bags and brooms for a cleaning process. Love and tolerance prevailed in the streets of Yerevan.

“It must be noted that Pashinian has been correctly seen as ‘the right man at the right time’, in what was an alignment of stars in Armenia’s political galaxy, involving a potent new form of public activism, a largely discredited and deeply unpopular ruling elite and a gift for charismatic populist political leadership, each of which combined to energise and empower Pashinian and his youthful team,” Giragosian told the Weekly.

And for several times during this bloodless revolution, at nights, thousands of women who couldn’t leave their homes for protests, created 15 minutes of noisy din with kitchenware, signalling their support for the protesters.

Leyla dadig, 78 years old, “Granny Leyla (Vranuhi Kevorkian)”, is the first to appear in Republic Square every day, closely following her favourite leader’s news. Leyla became a celebrity in no time, her photographs and videos taken protesting went viral on social media. Nicknamed “revolutionary grandma”, Leyla was born in Abkhazia and was exiled to Serbia with her family. She finds Armenia the best place to settle. “We’re heading to better days. It will be difficult but it’s worth it. Our youth did a great job,” she said in interview with local media.

During the second round of the parliamentary session when Pashinian was elected, and before the voting process, the ruling party’s MP Vahram Baghdassarian criticised the atmosphere of the country, saying “hate prevails”, “created among the people in the streets” — a statement that was heavily criticised inside the session while other MPs praised the people’s uprising, describing the day as “historic” and an end to two decades of “despair and struggle”.

Generally, the Armenian Diaspora is an engaged observer of events in Armenia. “While this is natural, there is a need for a more nuanced policy of engagement. More specifically, the future of Armenia, in terms of democracy, economic development and as a law-based society, must be elevated concerns within the Diaspora,” Giragosian said.

Concerning the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Party’s (ARF) position towards the revolution on its first days, Giragosian sees that the party is one of the political casualties in these events, as their rather short-sighted allegiance to the ruling Republican Party greatly diminished their standing in Armenia and has further reduced their claim as a champion for social justice.

“And with a few meagre cabinet positions, their influence is minimal and their political role is now marginal, thereby suffering from the public perception of being tainted and co-opted by the Armenian government with little or nothing to show for such a tactical alliance,” Giragosian commented. Later, the party signalled its support to the charismatic Pashinian.

Armenian-American heavy metal star Serj Tankian joined the crowds too. He came from the US a day before the prime minister’s election and gave a concert in celebration the day Pashinian was elected. Tankian’s songs have been played regularly at marches since the uprising began.

Russia has remained indifferent, although it has a military base on Armenian territory. “For any new government, there will be both a necessity and a desire for calm and a return to normalcy. In foreign policy, this means reassuring Russia that there is to be no sudden U-turn in strategy. No matter how disingenuous, the perception of Armenia as a consistent loyal ally of Russia is more important than the reality, to both avoid prompting Russian interference or provoking any Russian move to undermine a new government,” Giragosian said.

The new prime minister has many challenges ahead. “The Republican Party is a majority in parliament and it can stop Pashinian’s reforms and plans. For example, the RPA may block the reform of the electoral code,” Stepan Grigorian, director of the Yerevan-based Analytical Centre on Globalisation and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC), told the Weekly.

In Grigorian’s view, Pashinian has to fight monopoly and corruption. “Most RPA members are leading a monopoly and a corrupt system. They might be interested in stopping reforms. They will wait and watch who he will appoint in the new government,” Grigorian said.

While previously May was the month of double victories for Armenia and its Diaspora, as its first republic was declared 28 May 1918 and the city of Shushi of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was liberated from Azeris on 9 May 1992, it is now a month of triple celebration for the Armenian nation.

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