Democratic Expression in the Streets of Armenia

So far, the spring of 2018 has been marked by public demonstrations and peaceful unrest in Armenia, which peaked at the end of April as protestors took the streets to oppose a power grab by recent president Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan has expired his term as president, but due to a new law established in 2015, the prime minister position has been expanded to involve greater power and higher levels of parliamentary influence. Instead of stepping down, the former president made a bid for the prime minister role, a move viewed by many as an arrogant presumption (particularly after two terms as president which many consider unsuccessful and antidemocratic).

A former journalist and the leader of a very small opposition faction, Nikol Pashinyan, orchestrated April street protests in Yerevan that attracted more than 150,000 people, a large turnout for this small formerly soviet nation in the Caucasus. (Pashinyan’s facebook broadcasts alone drew a vewiership of about 800,000, equal to about a quarter of the country’s population.) The street protests successfully pushed Sargsyan to step down.

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But the prime minister role has yet to be determined. During the first week of May, Sargsyan’s republican party, which still holds a majority in parliament, voted against Pashinyan’s attempt to step into the role, but ongoing street protests have pushed the party to back Pashinyan’s candidacy. Subtle appeals by the republican party for Russian intervention have been rejected, and the next stage of the election process will occur on May 8th . The party has reluctantly agreed to back Pashinyan, though it remains to be seen whether or not they will follow through on their stated intentions or ultimately support his anti-corruption agenda.

Over the past several weeks, statements have been published by the United Nations and by the European Union voicing support for the peaceful expression of democracy in

Armenia, and Russia has shown no signs of backing the republican party or intervening to condemn the street protests or prevent Pashinyan’s candidacy. The country appears to be on track to a peaceful democratic resolution, but the results of the both the election and the agenda have yet to be determined. What Mr. Pashinyan calls a “revolution of the people” may or may not translate into a mandate for governance.

Join us—and UN observers-- as we follow the development of these events. By May 8th we’ll have a clearer understanding of Armenia’s democratic future.