'Velvet Revolution' continues in Armenia

Protesters urge all citizens of Armenia to take part in a nationwide strike and act of civil disobedience to the government. The demonstrators seek the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan who became prime minister yesterday. Police are detaining activists.

The morning after the election

On 18 April, protests continued in Yerevan. In the morning, protesters managed to break through a police cordon on central Baghramyan Avenue and reach the presidential residence, where Serzh Sargsyan will continue to live in his new capacity as prime minister.

In response, police brought in additional forces including a special squad, Caucasian Knot reported; in the meantime, the protesters keep stressing that the demonstration is a peaceful one.

The Yerevan police reported that there was a ‘pogrom’ in downtown Yerevan on 17 April, but the leader of the protesters, Nikol Pashinyan, described the incident as a “Bollywood movie” staged by the government.

Addressing the crowds, Pashinyan said several times that he believed that the police would not resort to violence. He called on those taking part in the march to remove their surgical masks although journalists noticed gas masks on police and assumed that tear gas might be used, JAMnews reported.

Detentions

Some of the protesters left the area adjacent to the presidential residence and moved to another neighborhood when it became known that police were detaining protesters.

As of 1400 local time, activists were still being detained in several parts of Yerevan.

"Standstill" announced

Sargsyan's opponents sometimes refer to the events in Yerevan as a "standstill,” because the operations of public transportation and some institutions located downtown have been halted.

At a major rally on the evening of 17 April, leaders of the protest said they were not going to reconciles themselves to Sargsyan's election as prime minister. Nikol Pashinyan said that Yerevan "will find itself in a standstill" the next day because of the massive act of disodience and that "revolutionary committees" would organize similar events in other towns as well. Towards the night the government managed to open all main central roads and resume traffic but the protesters blocked the streets in the morning again.

International reaction

The Russian president and the Georgian prime minister congratulated Sargsyan on taking new office on the actual election day. On the morning of 18 April, the US embassy in Armenia published on its Facebook page a statement by the US Department of State which called on the sides to refrain from violence and said that it attentively watched "thousands of citizens of Armenia take to the streets to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly."

Why the protesters reject Sargsyan

"This country needs radical change. Serzh Sargsyan's government and he himself must go," Caucasian Knot was told by a protester who introduced himself as Robert. "And I will continue to protest until I achieve this goal."

"The government totally ignores the people's opinion. In parliament, Serzh Sargsyan dodged a question from an MP who asked him if he was aware about what was happening outside," said another Yerevan resident who requested anonymity.

"There are numerous failures by our government both in foreign and domestic policies, in the economy and education. There is all-out corruption in the country and there are oligarchs. In addition, because of Serzh Sargsyan's policies, the country has become dependent on Russia," said protester Gayane Mkrtchyan.

Many residents of Yerevan and several other cities of Armenia are against the extension of Serzh Sargsyan’s rule. Sargsyan served as president for 10 years, and then nominated himself for the post of prime minister. After the constitutional amendments, which Sargsyan initiated himself and which were approved at a referendum in 2015, the post of prime minister is the highest position in the country.

Sargsyan's opponents believe that he has been ignoring protests and holding on to power for 10 years. Protests were previously held in 2008 (10 people died in Yerevan), 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Several years ago, Sargsyan appeared to promise to quit the game as he promised that he would not run for the presidency anymore. The 2015 constitutional amendments, however, effectively enable him to rule indefinitely. Sargsyan could not become president for a third time but a prime minister can be elected an unlimited number of times, as Caucasian Knot points out.

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