Armenia’s anti-Sargsyan protesters promise they're in it for the long haul
Thousands protested for a seventh day.
Opposition protesters in Yerevan may not have achieved their initial aim of preventing longtime leader Serzh Sargsyan from continuing his rule. But they are digging in and girding for a long fight.
On April 19, the protests continued for their seventh day. The crowd, numbering in the thousands, was smaller than it has been at previous rallies, but protesters chalked that up to the rainy weather.
“We have to keep going,” one twentysomething, Anahit, told Eurasianet. “We can't waste people's hopes.” Her hope, she said, was “revolution.”
And the protests' leader, Nikol Pashinyan, vowed to escalate the demonstrations: "Tomorrow morning at 8:15 a.m. we will be closing all the streets of Yerevan,” he told the crowd, his voice cracking after a week of speeches.
Two days earlier, Sargsyan – who resigned as president early in the month – was appointed prime minister, setting the stage to continue his 10-year rule indefinitely. Pashinyan had sought to prevent Sargsyan becoming premier, but protesters said they didn't see the failure to do so as a setback. “No one was so naive as to expect that we could block him from becoming prime minister,” said a thirtysomething protester, Anna. “This is going to be a long fight.”
Just across the street, at the seat of Armenia's government, hundreds of police – some in riot gear, others in balaclavas – formed a cordon around the building. Earlier in the day, the building had been the site of a tense scene when Pashinyan and hundreds of supporters approached the police, asked them to put down their weapons and “reject Serzh” – one of the slogans of the protests. None of them took up the offer, though they again detained dozens.
President Armen Sarkissian (Sargsyan's successor in that position, which has in the meantime become a more ceremonial one), called on demonstrators and the government to engage in “dialogue,” a rhetorical concession to the persistent challenge. “In recent days thousands of our citizens – most of them young people – have presented their demands to the government in the form of demonstrations and marches,” Sarkissian said in a statement. “Young people are the future: future soldiers, scientists and engineers, political figures and government officials, and without a doubt their voices should be heard, and their opinions should be respected.”
An offer of dialog was too late for pension-aged protester, Armen. “People are just tired of Sargsyan,” he said. Armen referred to Sargsyan's 2014 promise not to seek the premiership if voters approved a new constitution that changed the government from a presidential system to a parliamentary one, in which the prime minister is the most powerful figure. People voted for the constitution because they thought it was therefore a good way to get rid of Sargsyan. “But he deceived us,” Armen said.
The next step should be new elections, in which Armen said he would support Pashinyan: “He's honest. When he speaks, you can see that the words come from his heart,” he said.
“If this movement succeeds, in 10 or 15 years Armenia will be the most powerful country in the region,” Armen added. “But God forbid it ends in failure, because if that happens it's just going to be more apathy and a greater number of our young people leaving the country.”
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.