The Armenian revolution’s victory was marked by the resignation of former president and PM Serzh Sargsyan and Nikol Pashinyan’s appointment as interim prime minister. The anti-government protests in Armenia showed the world how love and solidarity can beat corruption.
Serving as president of Armenia for 2 terms, Serzh Sargsyan had taken advantage of his political power by amending the constitution in 2015 that would remove term limits from continuing his rule either as president or PM.
Former journalist and editor MP Nikol Pashinyan started marching from Gyumri as means of protesting against Sargsyan’s third consecutive term as the most powerful figure of Armenia.
Heavily relying on the Republican Party, Sargsyan’s two terms of the presidency was followed by taking office as PM of Armenia. Having been in power for a decade, Sargsyan was unable to withstand the pressure of the large-scale protests led by Nikol Pashinyan.
Just after 6 days, he resigned. “Nikol Pashinyan was right, I was wrong,” he said.
Why did Nikol Pashinyan call for an Armenian velvet revolution?
Serzh Sargsyan’s election as PM was the main trigger of the Armenian revolution, but the issue was more deep-rooted than it seemed. For a decade, Serzh Sargsyan continuously exploited his political position.
Social inequality, poverty, emigration, corruption and lack of justice constantly accompanied his decisions. The official poverty rate of Armenia doubled during Sargsyan’s first term and reached 32.4% by the end of the term.
- Armenians protested against Sargsyan’s regime as early as 2008. Following the March 1 mass protests, the 2011 civil demonstrations took place demanding the release of political prisoners. Protesters also demanded the prosecution of the people responsible for the deaths of opposition activists after the 2008 presidential elections.
- This was followed by the Mashtots Park Movement, which began as a sit-in protesting against illegal constructions, destruction of trees and green zones in Yerevan. Simultaneously, the citizens fought against oligarchy and the lawless who place their interests above those of the people.
- The 2013 anti-government protests were led by then-presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisian who claimed the election was rigged.
- After the protests slowly died out, Electric Yerevan and the 2016 Yerevan hostage crisis continued revolting against Sargsyan.
Years and years of incessantly protesting against the regime had built up a lot of anger and intolerance in Armenians towards the government. Former editor of The Armenian Times Nikol Pashinyan has been highly critical of former presidents Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, contributing to many of the movements led by the opposition throughout his career.
He began his “My Step” march from Gyumri to Yerevan on March 31 accompanied by a small group of journalists.
The goals of the Armenian revolution was to get Serzh Sargsyan to resign as PM and the removal of the Republican Party from power. The protest march was also known as “Take a Step”, “Reject Serzh” (Մերժիր Սերժին). Nikol Pashinyan’s party Civil Contract was supported by Way Out Alliance and Free Democrats.
How did the protests of the Armenian revolution proceed when Nikol Pashinyan arrived in Yerevan?
- The initial location of the demonstrations was in France Square, where around 100 protests stayed overnight during the first few days of the protests. At first, the police made no effort in disrupting the peaceful demonstrations.
- This was quickly followed by civil disobedience. On April 16, citizens paralyzed Yerevan by blocking all roads and going on labor and student strikes. The police quickly blocked Marshal Baghramyan Avenue with barbed wires to prevent protesters from surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence (B26) and the National Assembly.
- The PM’s election was scheduled on April 17. Protesters had planned on blocking the entrances of the National Assembly to stop the vote from taking place. The riot police intervened and prevented the crowds from approaching the building.
- Many protesters were detained in the process, most of them being students.
- Although Serzh Sargsyan got appointed as the new PM, the protests showed no signs of slowing down. Road blockers used their creativity by continuously crossing the streets when the traffic lights turned green, eventually tiring the police.
- The leader of the Armenian revolution, Nikol Pashinyan, always reminded the crows not to fight with the police, as they were on their side.
- The new PM gave back the government the presidential mansion he was given a few weeks prior to the protests.
- Roadblocks quickly spread from Yerevan to all over Armenia. Vanadzor, Abovyan, Sevan, Gavar and many more Armenian cities joined the opposition.
- The Armenian revolution extended to the Armenian diaspora. Along joined Glendale, Moscow, Toronto, Athens, London, Chicago, Sao Paulo and more.
- Employees of Zvartnots International Airport went on labor strike and citizens blocked the border between Armenia and Georgia.
- Nikol Pashinyan was adamant when it came to negotiations. The only thing he wished to discuss with the PM was the terms of his resignation.
- On the evening of April 21, President Armen Sarkissian had a brief talk with Pashinyan and agreed to meet the PM the next morning (April 22) to discuss Sargsyan’s resignation.
The Armenian revolution faced setbacks when Nikol Pashinyan met with the PM
April 22 was one of the most stressful days of the Armenian revolution. The meeting that took place between Nikol Pashinyan and the new PM lasted only 3 minutes with Sargsyan walking out.
In those 3 minutes, he accused the opposition of blackmail and warned that Nikol Pashinyan hadn’t learned the lessons of March 1. He managed to make a reference to the 10 protesters that were killed during the protests of his election, threatening the opposition.
After the meeting failed to achieve anything, Nikol Pashinyan set out from Republic Square on a march to the Erebuni district, where the riot police took drastic measures. Pashinyan was detained along with opposition lawmakers Sasun Mikayelyan and Ararat Mirzoyan.
The riot police threw stun grenades at the crowds and mass detention of protesters took place. Although the situation seemed hopeless, citizens did not stop protesting.
By the end of the day, 232 protesters were detained. Since Pashinyan, Mikayelyan, and Mirzoyan had parliamentary immunity, criminal charges could not be brought against them. \
Around 100,000 citizens had gathered that evening at Republic Square demanding Sargsyan’s resignation.
The first big win of the Armenian revolution coincided with the release of Nikol Pashinyan
Members of the Armenian armed forces and participants of the 2016 April War joined the movement for the first time on April 23.
After being detained for 72 hours, the members of the Armenian revolution were released at 3:00 pm and were greeted with happiness and hope at Republic Square.
Pashinyan kept his speech short, stating that he would return at 6:30 pm. At 4:30 pm, PM Serzh Sargsyan announced his resignation:
I appeal to all citizens of the Republic of Armenia, to the adults and my dear youth, to women and men, I turn to the streets, to those who called to “Reject Serzh”, to those who stood day and night, to those who got to their workplaces with much difficulty because of the closed streets, and to all those who did their duty.
I turn to those, who were following live streams and those who bravely ensured the public’s security day in and day out. I turn to our brave soldiers and officers standing at our borders, I turn to my brothers in arms, I turn to my fellow party members, to all political forces and figures. I turn to you as the country’s leader for the last time. Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong. There are a few solutions to the current situation, but I am not one of them. I am resigning as the country’s leader, and leaving the post of Armenia’s Prime Minister. The movement in the street is against my leadership, and so I am fulfilling your demand.
I wish peace, harmony, and good judgment for our country.
April 23 was always a day of mourning for Armenians for the past century. It was the eve of the Armenian Genocide. April 23, 2018, became a day of victory for the Armenian revolution.
Citizens danced, sang, partied, drank and cried for the rest of the day. People regained their hope for building a new Armenia. But it was only the first (and biggest) step of the revolution.
Nikol Pashinyan brought forward new goals of the Armenian revolution after Sargsyan’s resignation
With Sargsyan out, the goals of the opposition became bigger. Nikol Pashinyan and the opposition demanded snap elections to the National Assembly, removal of the Republic Party from power and appointment of Pashinyan as interim PM until snap elections are held.
Former PM Karen Karapetyan was appointed as acting PM following Serzh’s resignation. No protests took place on April 24. Pashinyan led the march to the Armenian Genocide Memorial, which he announced had nothing to do with politics, they were commemorating the dead.
After Karen Karapetyan refused to talk to Pashinyan due to the preconditions set by the opposition leader, Pashinyan announced that protests will proceed. He said that the people’s candidate (Pashinyan) should be appointed PM before snap elections are held and that Republicans have no right to hold power.
People continued blocking roads and the border with Georgia. Simultaneously, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) pulled out of the ruling coalition and declared their support for the Armenian revolution.
The Armenian revolution slowly came to its end when Nikol Pashinyan was the only candidate for PM
All opposition parties declared their support for Pashinyan’s candidacy for prime minister by April 28. The vote was to take place on May 1. In order to take office, Pashinyan needed 53 votes. With Republicans being the majority, he needed at least 6 members to vote for him. The session lasted 9 hours.
Over 250,000 protesters watched it live at Republic Square. By the end of the session, Pashinyan managed to get only 1 Republican to vote for him. Public figures and celebrities such as Iveta Mukuchyan, Arsinee Khanjian, Sona Shahgeldyan and Hayk Marutyan gave speeches at the rallies and performed for the crowds to keep them motivated.
The second vote was to take place exactly a week later, on May 8. With Yerevan paralyzed due to the strike, people started boycotting businesses and stopped attending class. The public pressure led to the Republican Party deciding to support Pashinyan in the next round of voting.
Armenian-American vocalist of System of a Down and political activist Serj Tankian personally addressed the crowds at Republic Square after weeks of online activism, announcing his support and solidarity and emphasizing the disallowance of a one-party rule in Armenia.
The epochal victory was celebrated in white. Since Armenia saw little to no snow that winter, a truck full of snow from the mountains was unloaded in Republic Square and staged a snowball fight. Champagne was popped, music was played, people hugged and kissed congratulating each other.
Nikol Pashinyan addressed the crowd after his election:
From now on the people should demand that all officials, the prime minister, the president, and all the others, serve the people honestly and devotedly. If not, the people should make their move as they did in April 2018. And so, long live freedom! Long live the Republic of Armenia! Long live all of us and our children, who right now live in a free and happy Armenia.
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