Electric Yerevan was a protest against a 17% hike in electricity rates in Armenia. The Electric Yerevan protests were also known as “No to robbery” (Ոչ թալանին).
The Electric Yerevan mass protests took place in the summer of 2015, from June 15 to September 11.
Electric Yerevan was successful in reversing the price hike and increasing the oversight of Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA). The methods of protesting were demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, online activism and civil disobedience.
The Electric Yerevan protests took place not only in Yerevan, but in Gyumri, Vanadzor, Martuni, Spitak and Ashtarak. Electric Yerevan protests also took place in the diaspora: Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Brussels. Electric Yerevan resulted in the monopolist electric distribution company being sold to a new investor and the latest price hikes being postponed.
How did previous events cause the start of the Electric Yerevan protests?
Before Electric Yerevan, there were smaller protests against price hikes on public transportation and a new mandatory pension savings system. The minibus (marshrutka) fare increased from 100 AMD to 150 AMD.
Later that year, in June 2015, the Armenian Public Services Regulatory Committee (PRSC) increased the electricity price by 7 AMD per kilowatt hour.
It was to become effective that year on August 1. This marked the 3rd electricity price increase in the past few years. Last time electricity prices were increased was in 2013.
According to Garegin Bagramyan, the PRSC chairman: “The main reason for this decision is the fluctuation in the currency exchange rates.”
The parties to the civil conflict were two: the civil opposition was No to robbery and Rise up, Armenia vs the Armenian government. As for the lead figures, it was Vaghinak Shushanyan (until August 8) and Andreas Ghukasyan vs then-president Serzh Sargsyan.
How did Russian-Armenian relations affect the Electric Yerevan protests?
Armenia and Russia have been very cooperative after the fall of the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the USSR, many post-Soviet countries struggled and continue struggling with weak political party development.
These states also struggle with a high degree of fragmentation, an anemic civil society and lack genuine civic participation. During the Soviet periods, there were restrictions to ideologies and public sector dominance prevailed.
This forced post-Soviet citizens to become passive. They also expected authorities to become responsible for community welfare.
The post-Soviet era resulted in the creation of two new social classes: a middle class with non-manual employees at its core, and a lower class with chronic unemployment and economic inactivity at its base.
Although there is an 8% growth in gross domestic product, 43% of the population lives in poor conditions with an unemployment rate of 30%. The latter stimulates large numbers of Armenia’s emigration.
Armenia relies greatly on foreign aid from the diaspora and an oligarchical system of political power rules. The International Corruption Perception Index showed that Armenia comes in 94th place in public sector corruption.
The legitimacy of the government is weakened due to the tension that the oligarchical system creates. This causes a lot of mass meetings to take place with the authorities taking drastic measures.
As Armenia wanted to modernize, the country wanted to participate in a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU.
This was beneficial to the EU as they wanted to have close relations with former Soviet countries on Russia’s borders. But, Armenia joined the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.
During the EU-Russia summit that took place in Khabarovsk in 2009, Russia’s then-president Medvedev said that Russia had no intentions of turning the Eastern Partnership against Russia.
Since Armenia is Russia’s only ally in the region, the country trades and invests with Armenia and holds two military bases in the country.
The Electric Yerevan protests caused the sale of ENA from Inter RAO to the Tashir Group
Inter RAO is a diversified energy holding parastatal company, one of the largest public energy company in Russia. The country own 52.68% of the shares. The parallel integrated grid used by Inter RAO synchronizes the electric generators across the Caucasus and Central Asia.
This allows shortfalls in one area to be made up with surpluses from another. Although the grid increases the quality and the dependability of electricity, it also raises safety and security concerns to countries.
With ENA holding a license to distribute electricity in Armenia, the tariffs are approved by the PSRC. Inter RAO bought ENA in 2006 with justifying themselves claiming that the company was unable to pay off their debt (over $250 million) which was caused by the inefficiencies in Armenia’s outdated energy infrastructure.
According to the company’s 2013 finances’ audit recorded around $94 million losses, almost making the company go bankrupt. Simultaneously, According to a 2013 report by World Bank, the power sector in Armenia was underfinanced and increasing tariffs wouldn’t cover increasing costs.
On the other hand, international organizations and the media, along with Inter RAO’s reports, uncovered that there’s corruption and mismanagement within ENA.
The electricity price hike would still be affordable by the middle class, but Electric Yerevan protests started because of mistrust in the government because of corruption.
How did the Electric Yerevan protests begin and how did the Russian media refer to them?
The Electric Yerevan protests began on June 19, 2015. The protests had different names: Electric Yerevan (the main), Revolution of socket, ElectroMaidan, EnergoMaidan.
The Russian media was successful in angering Electric Yerevan protesters by suggesting they are “a new Maidan”. Protesters were very clear in stating they had no intentions to imitate Euromaidan.
Channel 1 Russia’s program “Vremya Pokazhet”’s host claimed that Armenian protestors were unaware of energy prices in Armenia. The host said hinting at the West: “In my opinion, somebody “helped” those young men to take to the streets.”
Spreading wrong allegations and saying false statements, the program’s lies were met with backlash as Armenians were well-aware of electricity price hikes.
Since the Electric Yerevan protests had no involvement in politics, ordinary citizens were invested greatly in the demonstrations. Other than regular Armenian citizens, political party members also took part in the protests, but had no organizational involvement from their parties.
Vaghinak Shushanyan, the lead figure of Electric Yerevan, attributed the organization’s support thanks to its particular demands. These included increased oversight of ENA, reversal of the price hike and refusal to participate in political horse trading.
Most of Electric Yerevan protesters were aged 17-35 and came from the emerging middle class. Although the majority was able to afford the price hike, the protests were against how the country is run.
In the first days of Electric Yerevan, protesters went on a sit-in strike that was geared against the price increase. Another sit-in was announced at the end of the rally that would take place in a central Yerevan square.
That, too, was attended by thousands of protesters. On the third day of protests, the high-voltage rally protesters marched to Baghramyan Avenue where the Presidential Palace is located. Another sit-in strike took place there.
The fourth day of the demonstrations, on June 23, around 200 peaceful protesters were detained, most of them being journalists.
The police took drastic measures and used water cannons on the protesters, resulting in 25 people being sent to the hospital. These actions triggered a larger wave of people to protest.
Citizens all over the country started taking part in Electric Yerevan. Cities like Gyumri, Vanadzor, Martuni, Spitak and Ashtarak joined Yerevan against the price hikes. With more police brutality recorded in the peaceful protests, people blocked central Baghramyan Avenue and themselves with dumpsters.
On June 27, protesters of Electric Yerevan blocked the Mashtots Avenue, Sayat-Nova Avenue and the Place de France.
The events of Electric Yerevan escalated quickly: the police dispersed the protesters who had organized a sit-in in the Freedom Square. Rise up, Armenia was created by Andreas Ghukasyan on July 16.
The members of the Rise up, Armenia movement were detained on August 21 during a rally in Republic Square, but were freed a few hours later. No to robbery organized a rally in Lover’s Park on the first of September, where protesters walked to Republic Square and were greeted by Rise up, Armenia’s protestors.
Pre-Parliament members took part in Electric Yerevan. Another sit-in was organized by Rise up, Armenia on September 4.
How did the Electric Yerevan protests come to an end?
An audit of ENA confirmed that the electricity price hike was due to their financial crisis.
In the end, the protests caused the government to approve the sale of ENA from Inter RAO to the Tashir Group. Tashir Group is run by Samvel Karapetyan, a Russian-based Armenian billionaire, philanthropist and an overall respected figure in Armenia.
Later, the Armenian government announced that they would be subsidizing the hike with the Tashir Group until July 31, 2016. ENA was sold to Tashir group for $253 million. Tashir Group guaranteed to introduce international standards in the next 5 years.
They also pledged to improve the management of utility. Tashir Group also claimed that they’d be working on reducing the technological losses of the company by at least 2%. They plan on investing 8.4 million AMD to modernize Armenia’s electricity metering system.
5.8 billion AMD is to be invested in repairing and constructing distribution networks.
Check Out Other Posts Related to Electric Yerevan Protests: What Was It About And How Did The Russian Media Cover It?
- Armenian Prime Ministers, the most Powerful Figures of Armenian Politics & Government
- Karen Karapetyan & His Biography | An Armenian Politician and Prime Minister
- Vazgen Sargsyan: A National Hero & Legendary Military Commander | Discover His Legacy Today, Street, Statues, Medals & More