Thousands continue to protest in Yerevan against ex-president Serzh Sargsyan’s appointment as Prime Minister of Armenia, with smaller protests in other cities. The ruling party has called on the protest leader to engage in ‘dialogue’.
The protesters, led by MP Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the Civil Contract party, continue to march through the Yerevan, blocking central streets and gathering outside government buildings in what Pashinyan described as a ‘velvet revolution’ and a campaign of ‘total disobedience’ — the biggest unrest since the 2015 Electric Yerevan protests. The Civil Contract party is part of the opposition Yelk coalition.
[Read more on OC Media: Ex-president Serzh Sargsyan appointed Armenian PM as opposition declares ‘velvet revolution’]
Following Armenia’s recent shift to a parliamentary system of governance, the post of prime minister became the most powerful one in the country.
As of Thursday afternoon, protesters were continuing to march through the city, staging sit-ins in front of government buildings. According to RFE/RL, 20 protesters were detained in the morning as they attempted to prevent ministers from attending Sargsyan’s first cabinet meeting. Pashinyan has insisted the movement is nonviolent and has called on police to join the protesters.
In his speech in the Parliament on Tuesday, new Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan referenced briefly the protests, urging them ‘not to stir the dormant volcano’.
‘I am sure at least 60%, or a little more, is dissatisfied with their lives. But to be dissatisfied doesn’t mean to revolt. In many families children may be dissatisfied with their parents, that may not signify a conflict’, he said.
On Wednesday, the ruling Republican Party called Pashinyan to engage in ‘dialogue’ with the government. Pashinyan has dismissed the offer.
Armenian police have repeatedly stated that the protests are ‘illegal’ and reiterated their intention to disperse them. On Monday, stun grenades were allegedly used, leaving 46 protesters and six policemen in hospital. The police have accused protesters of destroying public property, while protesters claim government provocateurs were behind the vandalism.
On Wednesday, at least 87 protesters were detained throughout the day, during sit-ins at street junctions and confrontations with riot police. In a major rally at central Yerevan’s Republic Square in the evening, Pashinyan called on people in villages and small towns to pressure their local representatives to support the ‘velvet revolution’ by releasing official statements and to organise nonviolent sit-ins.
Mass detentions on Wednesday morning on Yerevan’s France Square (Mari Nikuradze /OC Media)
Protesters confronting riot police and armoured vehicles on Wednesday evening on Baghramyan Avenue, in front of the prime minister’s residence (Mari Nikuradze /OC Media)
‘Struggling for a prosperous future’
The protests have seen support from abroad from some in Armenian diaspora. A small demonstration was held in front of the Armenian embassy in Moscow, while the frontman of popular American rock band System Of A Down, Serj Tankian, wrote ‘my heart and love goes out to all in Armenia who are struggling for a prosperous future’. Pashinyan appealed on Wednesday to Tankian and other prominent diasporans to come to Yerevan to join the protests.
Protest leaders have also announced that the first police officer to defect will receive $10,000 from an ‘unnamed diasporan’ and each one thereafter will receive $2,000.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to congratulate Serzh Sargsyan on his appointment on Tuesday evening.
The US Embassy in Armenia wrote on Wednesday that they were monitoring the situation ‘as thousands of Armenian citizens have taken to the streets to exercise their right to expression and peaceful assembly’.
‘We are encouraged by the responsible and respectful behavior of the vast majority of protestors and police throughout the last several days. We are troubled, however, by reports of sporadic clashes between police and protesters, including some injuries. We encourage both government authorities and the protesters to exercise restraint and avoid any escalatory or violent actions’, the statement said.
Human Rights Watch has called on Armenian authorities to ‘refrain from interfering in peaceful assembly’, writing that ‘it is never too late for Armenia’s police to turn around their poor record on using excessive force’.