Armenians protest for resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, 2018

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Protests began on 31 March, 2018

Official dates for the revolution are from 13 April 2018 to 3 May 2018 when protests were at peak levels.

Parliamentary elections eventually took place on 10 December 2018, which confirmed Pashinyan as prime minister or Armenia.

31 March
2018
to
8 May
2018
Location and Goals
Country: 
Armenia
Location City/State/Province: 
Yerevan
Location Description: 
Republic Square, France Square, Marshal Baghramyan Avenue
Goals: 
Resignation of prime minister Serz Sargsyan

Removal of Republican Party as the ruling party in Armenia

Election of a new acting prime minister

New parliamentary elections

 

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia has spent almost two decades as a quasi-authoritarian state with the ruling Republican Party controlling most of its political, economic, and social institutions. Serzh Sargsyan became President in 2008 and under his rule, Armenia endured slow economic growth, high unemployment rates, and corruption.

In 2013, Sargsyan introduced a constitutional reform that transformed the country from a dual executive republic (one where both presidents and prime ministers have authority in the state) to a parliamentary system. This transferred the powers previously vested in the president to the prime minister. President Sargsyan also created a new electoral system that made it easier for the Republican Party to gain a parliamentary majority.

The constitution was amended in 2015 via a referendum and Armenia adopted a parliamentary system. After serving ten years as president, Sargsyan was about to begin a third consecutive term in power as prime minister when protests erupted to oppose his continued rule of the country. The movement came to be known as #MerzhirSerzhin, meaning "#RejectSerzh." It is also recognized as the Armenian “Velvet Revolution,” or the 2018 Armenian revolution.

Initial protests began on 31 March with Nikol Pashinyan, a former journalist and leader of the opposing Civil Contract party, embarking on his Im Kayl (My Step) walk with his supporters. They started in Gyumri, Armenia and went through Vanadzor, Dilijan, Hradzan, and Abovyan before finally halting in the country’s capital, Yerevan, on 13 April. This marked the first day of the #MerzhirSerzhin campaign that began at Republic Square,Yerevan with a small rally. A group of 100 protestors stayed overnight at Republic Square around tents with fires from 13-14 April. During this time, the number of protestors increased to roughly 5,000.

On 16 April, protesters planned to move towards the National Assembly building and barricade its entrances to prevent elections from taking place the next day. The police issued a statement earlier that day declaring the protests illegal, warning they would not hesitate to use force to disband them. Thousands still marched onto Marshal Baghramyan Avenue near the National Assembly building, waving the Armenian flag and blocking traffic in the city. Clashes broke out when lines of police attempted to prevent demonstrators from further advancing. Dozens were hurt from the clashes as well as the surrounding razor wire set up by the police. The protest leader, Pashinyan, suffered injuries to his eyes and hands.

Sargsyan’s formal election on 17 April led to an upheaval of protests and detentions. Many people saw this as an effort by Sargsyan to remain in a position of power as he faced constitutional limits on his term as president, which ended only eight days prior to the election. The police arrested 80 protesters on the same day. The President of Armenia, Armen Sarkisian, who was handpicked by Sargsyan as his successor, released a statement condemning the protesters as well.

Daylong picketing and rallies ensued in Yerevan on 18 April. Police took up shielded positions along France Square to prevent protestors from blocking traffic. By noon, police arrested 66 people. Later in the day, Pashinyan called for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in the form of protests, sit-ins inside administrative offices, and general strikes across the nation.

On the morning of 19 April, protestors assembled in front of government offices in Republic Square to prevent ministers from attending Sargsyan’s first cabinet meeting. They also gathered in front of the mayor’s office chanting, “Take a step. Reject Serzh.” At Yerevan State University (YSU), Pashinyan encouraged students to boycott classes and join the protests. As crowds increased every day, the new president repeatedly called Pashinyan for diplomatic talks. Pashinyan refused to do so unless Sargsyan announced his resignation and the government held new general elections.

By 21 April, crowds multiplied to 50,000, and demonstrations spread across the country. Armenian president, Sarkisian, visited the demonstrations at Republic Square. Soon after, Pashinyan announced that he was willing to meet Sargsyan the next day to discuss the terms of his resignation.

On the morning of 22 April, Pashinyan and Sarkisian met at Yerevan’s Marriott Hotel briefly and failed to come to a resolution. Protestors moved from Republic Square down to the district of Erebuni, where police met the crowds with stun grenades and mass arrests, including the forcible detention of Pashinyan and opposition lawmakers. Despite nearly 230 people being imprisoned, civilians continued to protest at Republic Square. Over this period, the U.S. Embassy to Armenia voiced concern over the use of force against journalists and protestors.

Armenian soldiers took to the streets alongside protestors on 23 April. The movement also gained support from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the ministry wrote on Facebook, "a people that has the ability to maintain respect for one another and not divide even in the most difficult moments in its history - despite categorical differences - is a mighty people. Armenia, Russia is always with you." At 3:00 pm, authorities released Pashinyan and by 4:30 pm, Sargsyan posted an official resignation letter on his website. He wrote, “I am addressing you for the last time as the country’s leader. Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was mistaken.”

After 11 consecutive days of a paralyzed capital that drew in almost 100,000 protestors, Sargsyan stepped down as prime minister. First deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan assumed power as acting prime minister in his place.

Karapetyan refused to accept Pashinyan’s conditions for a new election, which led to the cancellation of talks between Pashinyan and the Republican Party, and renewed protests on 25 April. Pashinyan put forth new demands––that the Republican Party could no longer hold power in Armenia and that a new prime minister, a “candidate from the people” should be elected, after which special parliamentary elections should occur. Additionally, he stated that the nominee for the transitory prime minister position should come from the protest campaign.

Protestors then set up new blockades to the capital’s airport. Parliamentary factions of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) declared their support for the movement too. The next day, ARF members resigned from their government posts in objection to the current regime.

On 1 May, the government agreed to Pashinyan and the protestors’ requests for parliamentary elections of a new prime minister. Pashinyan was the only nominee put forth by his party, Yelk, but he was unable to secure a majority in parliament. With the election results in hand, Pashinyan declared a non-violent general strike for the following day and a transportation strike until the next evening.

Supporters blocked off major highways, such as the airport access road, bringing Armenia to a standstill on 2 May. The country saw some of its largest ever strikes and blockades with an estimated 150,000 people gathered at Republic Square. Civil disobedience grew as protestors cut off entire intersections in the capital, even the subway stations shut down. Armenian police attempted unsuccessfully to remove protestors from blockades. By evening, Pashinyan announced his success in convincing the ruling party to vote for him in the upcoming elections on 8 May. Protests halted in the period leading up to the election.

Parliament voted again on 8 May for a new prime minister and, once more, Nikol Pashinyan was the only nominee. He won by a 59-42 margin, bringing the protests to a complete stop.

Celebrations erupted at Republic Square. International media outlets reported the protests for democracy and freedom as a historic success for Armenia after two decades of a despaired economy. Spearheaded by Pashinyan, the strictly non-violent campaign exercised social, economic, and political power and garnered support from the US, Russia, and the political elite of Armenia. In December 2018, Pashinyan’s bloc won a landslide victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, with over 70% of the vote, thereby making the campaign’s win absolute.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Influenced by the original 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia where civilians used non-violent methods to end being ruled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

Sources: 
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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nerissa Nashin, 28/04/2019