Photo Credit: Photolure
While Repat Armenia Foundation is a Non-Governmental Organization which remains impartial and objective, those who deem themselves repatriates do have personal opinions on all that is occuring in the country right now. We have gathered a few subjective thoughts to help our readers get a better understanding of the mindset and emotional state of those living in Armenia. The 9 opinions included are by a myriad of individuals from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. They include repatriates from Canada, the US, the UAE, Russia, Syria, and Lebanon.
Sara Anjargolian - CEO and Co-founder of Impact Hub Yerevan
I repatriated from the United States in 2012. This movement is an incredible opportunity for those of us living in Armenia to be part of a fundamental shift in socio-political culture. Shifting culture has been one of the most difficult undertakings here in Armenia. Yes we can build roads and schools with bricks and mortar and money, but shifting mentality and culture is like wading through mud. It is a slow, deliberate process. And that is exactly what we are seeing here.
No matter what happens in the end, and regardless of which political leaders you may or may not support, what is happening on the streets of Yerevan, and in pockets across the country today, is a classic example of a maturing culture of civil disobedience for social change ... a culture of "owning" your country ... and of believing in your singular ability to build a better future in Armenia. It is no different and just as powerful as what happened in the United States with Martin Luther King Jr. or with Gandhi in India. Yes, this may be much smaller in terms of numbers, but the inherent message, and the underlying purpose is exactly the same.
Namely, that the residents of Armenia have a fundamental right to express their discontent with those who govern them though methods of nonviolent resistance. It is an education we read about in history books but seldom get to experience during our lives. What an incredible opportunity for those of us living in Armenia at this point in time.
Hagop Kazanjian - Web Developer
I repatriated from Syria in 2006. I think the protests were to be expected due to the situation of the country. What is pleasantly surprising is the level of organization and peacefulness, which has been recognized by the authorities. I am not a specialist in such matters and cannot suggest the best solution, but as a citizen, the solution for me starts with the departure of the corrupt authorities from power, followed by - the more important step - going through real democratic processes to elect new authorities for Armenia. The role any repatriated individual has in this process cannot be expected to be more or less than that of any other citizen of Armenia. However, repats in general, as people coming from different locations, backgrounds and walks of life, can bring some diverse approaches to the political equation, as they have already been doing in the social and economic sectors.
I have been supporting these protests from the beginning, because, since day one, the organizers have been offering a new approach, and as I mentioned above, an incredible level of organization and self control. I also participate because of my belief that Armenia and Armenians deserve better. Although I'm trying not to keep my hopes high, I still expect a daily increase in numbers of citizens who are aware, who will continue to break the stereotypes of fear and indifference and will start to speak up for their rights, not just during the protests, but every time those rights are violated.
Aren Apikyan - Business Consultant
I repatriated from Russia in 2009. I find it very encouraging that the population can come out and protest, defending their rights and fighting against the president’s third rule. I simply hope that this does not lead to worse circumstances and actions taken by the government. I wish it would have a peaceful conclusion, but I do not yet see a path to this nor a clear direction to take. Nikol Pashinyan and his followers have yet to provide a roadmap of steps to follow, while that is what the people are clamoring for most. It is too early to say that this is a zartonk or enlightenment of any type; I do not like to title things before it becomes clear. But as a movement, we shall soon see what it really is.
Raffi Elliott - Founder, GetTreated.co
I repatriated from Canada to Armenia in 2011. I have since started two businesses here, gotten married, and welcomed a daughter into this world. I have been closely following, and engaged in Armenia’s civic, cultural and political life since I moved here, as all repats should do.
I served as an election observer during the controversial 2015 constitutional reform referendum, in the village of Hakhtanak, where the number of organised election violations by the ruling party convinced me that this vote didn’t reflect the will of the people. As I was the only observer in the entire village, and due to my physical intervention, my polling station was the only one where the “no” vote passed. It was clear that the Republican Party was determined to push through the necessary legislative changes to further secure its grip on power all the while maintaining the veneer of constitutional legality and electoral legitimacy.
The government was mistaken in its conviction that apathy and despair would make this a smooth transition. The Independence Generation has awoken, and is determined to defend its democratic values, and individual rights against such a shameless ploy by an unpopular government to continue its legacy of inept rule past its 10- year limit. For this reason, as a repat who has chosen to live in my ancestral home and to raise a family here, I feel it is my duty to stand with those who defend the revival of the spirit of the Armenian people. I encourage other repats, and Armenians in the diaspora to join us in securing democratic maturation, strengthening of individual and property rights, and developing free markets to ensure prosperity in our homeland.
George Tabakyan - Executive Director of Arar Foundation
I repatriated from the United Arab Emirates in 2011. While we are living through difficult times for Armenia, there is so much more than that. From one side, I was expecting the changes which started after April 2016 to result in a new Prime Minister; but that didn’t happen. On the other hand, many of us are convinced that hitting the streets is not the solution, knowing what has happened in Ukraine, Syria, Georgia, and other such countries. While I hold the utmost respect for all those young men and women who have been protesting for the last week or so, I only hope that this won’t have a bloody ending.
Raffi Niziblian - Creative Director/Communications Expert
Born in Jordan, lived in Kuwait and then Montreal, and finally moved to Armenia in 2003, I have seen so many different types of societies. The most recent and closest to my heart is the transformation of the Armenian society – going from socialist-soviet to democratic. Over the past decade, following the 1999 shootings in the Parliament, so many civic actions have taken place. It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t agree with these or who is leading them, it is more important to understand that as part of the democratic process, citizens must be allowed to voice their concern and understand that the elected civil servant works for them. Citizens have the right and responsibility to hold them accountable. In the case of this movement, it was interesting to see so many younger protesters asking for a better future.
What is that future? It is unclear. Why? Because the current government has created a political vacuum where they have eliminated any opposition, from buying them, to discrediting them, to blackmailing them and even threatening them. The oligarchic alliances and gains are far greater than any political will. What is clear to me from this demonstration is that a great majority, especially the younger generation is not content with the status quo.
Where do repats come in? Repatriation is a political process where each of us made a conscious choice to build a new home in Armenia. We may not agree on many things; in a healthy society, we shouldn’t. However, we should not disrespect opposing opinions. What should happen is a creative discussion that may lead to clever and feasible solutions. We all come from different societal constructs. We each bring our baggage. There is good in that baggage that can be combined and used for the benefit of this society – the new one we are building alongside our fellow Armenian citizens.
Mher Almasian - Structural Engineer
I repatriated to Armenia from the US in 2016. Serzh Sargsyan's decision to stay on as Prime Minister, and the protests that have ensued, are extremely unfortunate. This is because they create further distrust, division, and disillusionment in society. Furthermore, they make the public more oblivious to the progress that Armenia has made in recent years. That progress includes the fact that the entire upper echelon of the Armenian government has gradually changed, and that significant advancement has been made in key measures and programs.
Individually, Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, President Armen Sargsyan, President of National Assembly Ara Babloyan, Vice President of National Assembly Arpine Hovannisyan, SRC Chairman Vardan Harutyunyan, Transportation, Communication, and Technology Minister Vahe Martirosyan, and every other leader of the government are highly respected individuals. They are considered very competent and respectable technocrats and professionals. They are a result of Serzh Sargsyan's gradual and strategic removal of ultra powerful corrupt individuals over the years.
Moreover, key statistics, like tax collection per GDP and exports per GDP, have risen significantly in recent years. Furthermore, significant progress has been made in the last two years in strategic projects and developments that will the lay the foundation for future growth.
However, much of the general public, which understands or cares very little about the details of politics and economics, remains oblivious to them, in no small due to the massive distrust that exist in society. The 2008 and 2015 recessions have made feeling those results even harder. And with Serzh Sargsyan staying on, that phenomenon will only become more amplified.
I personally do not support Serzh Sargsyan’s decision to stay. If he is simply staying on to further remove corrupt individuals from power, and to mentor Karen Karapetyan or Vigen Sargsyan in foreign policy, as he claims, I can at least see the reasoning in his argument. However, that does not seem to be his main concern. He seems to fully intent on staying for a full term. I also do not support the fact that the general public received very limited consultation in his decision to stay on. Serzh Sargsyan enjoys around ten percent popular support in Armenia, and him staying in power creates more disillusionment and apathy in Armenia. This in turn decreases trust in the political and judicial institutions, and encourages emigration, as well as participation in radical political action.
However, I also do not support the protests that are taking place against him because of its leaders and their objectives. The protests taking place against Serzh Sargsyan are led by unsavory figures. They are largely leaders of political media and political watchdogs organizations funded by western governments and organizations. These individuals in their regular occupation, criticize the Armenian government, and create apathy and disillusionment in the general public, while claiming to be impartial in the process. However, the same individuals, are very much active figures in the political process.
Furthermore, I do not support the protests because their goal is not the stepping down of Serzh Sargsyan, or even being granted partial rule in the form of two or three key ministries. Their goal is complete government overthrow. And there are endless examples throughout history as to why this is ill advised if your primary concern is national welfare. The average person in Ukraine today earns half of what they earned four years ago before the Ukrainian revolution. The Ukrainian currency is worth less than one third of what it was worth before the revolution. And Ukraine has lost land roughly equalling the size of the Republic of Armenia.
The correct path forward would be working towards the 2022 election. For those who don't support the ruling party, their path forward should be organizing and fundraising for Yelq, the main opposition party, for the next elections.
While the methods in Armenia are more crude, essentially like everywhere else, elections in Armenia are decided by money. Yelq itself believed it would have required only one million dollars to have been very competitive in the most recent elections. That is not a figure that should be difficult to attain. Only working through the political system does lasting and institutional political change occur. And while revolutions might be easy and exciting, they almost always make things much worse.
Annie Akkam - Student at YSLU
I repatriated from UAE to Armenia in 2008. Ever since I moved to Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan has been the president. What has he done besides corruption? What has he done besides taking advantage of his power? What has the republican party done besides brainwashing university students to take part in their events to support them?
As a student of Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences, I have seen how the student council blindly supports the corrupt political party. Only a few days ago, one of our professors was being scolded at our university for bringing political ideas into the school. Extremely ironic, I'd say. Our student council is programmed to worship the republicans, vote for them, post pictures online praising their actions. When a member of the opposition enters the university, all of a sudden, it's a politics-free space.
People have a lot to say about Nikol Pashinyan. Some don't agree with him, some think he himself is corrupt, and some think he's Serzh's puppet. Joining the protest led by him doesn't mean we want him as our PM or president, it means we all agree that Serzh's time is up. We are protesting for a cause. We are taking part in civil disobedience because we are done being citizens of a corrupt nation. We don't need Serzh, Serzh needs the people. The velvet revolution is not going to stop. Armenia needs change, and change starts now.
Sergey Abelyan - Director of Iravaban24
I repatriated from Russia in 2016.Armenian citizens have freedom of speech and that voice needs to be heard well. I am convinced that this civil disobedience have a purpose and not simply to misbehave but that change the way the wealth and social assistance is distributed. Aside from the name of the country or the party ruling it, what concerns the populace the most is being able to live a safe and average life, with enough food on the table. Safety should be looked at from all facets; a starving citizen poses great risks. To speak about emigration is unnecessary, if of itself. I’m not a fan of the populist beliefs that the government should create workplaces.
The government is not a businessman, it is a manager and coordinator. This means that it should ensure the people work in an environment that allows for a good standard of living. The measures should be taken to allow that citizen to create, the foreigner to invest, and existing businesses to expand. I do not speak only for businesses here, but for institutions in all fields, because we cannot see a sharp increase in any part of our socio-economic sector at the moment. I do not have the right to offer legal insight. All I can say in that respect that from the beginning of this civil disobedience, our company has put out notices stating we would provide free assistance to those who have need of it due to these protests.
As time passes, we will see people blame one another for each step taken or not taken. If the velvet revolution doesn’t take place, there will be those who say that while they agreed in theory, certain steps taken were unnecessary. If it does, we will have a new reality. I will also add that there is a tradition to constantly change your workplace and career paths in certain countries, in order for both the individual and the post itself to be most effective. Stability also comes from a generational switch. Stagnation does not equate stability; on the contrary, it often leads to regression over time.
Armenia is currently facing what the opposition calls “a Velvet Revolution” in reference to the uprising that led to the end of a single party rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It is panning out slightly differently in Armenia, however. The country transitioned to parliamentarianism on April 2, 2017, after constitutional amendments were made in December of 2015; but with the shift of power, the former president has moved sideways into the seat of Prime Minister as of April 17, 2018. The new laws state that the prime minister will be in office for the next four years, until 2022. That extends Serzh Sargsyan’s rule to 14 years, with the Republican Party of Armenia, which Sargsyan is president of, having been in power since 1998. During the vote for constitutional change, the incumbent president vowed not to run for the role of prime minister, should the country be in favor of the amendments.
This part of his speech translates to, ““I believe one person should not aspire to hold the reins of power in Armenia for more than twice in their lifetime.” His words have been documented profusely and used as arsenal today to counter his appointment to the office. While the nomination took place inside, the opposition, led by YELQ’s Nikol Pashinyan, gathered the people in protest, calling for civil disobedience or what has been construed as peaceful misbehavior. This included blocking off main roads and bridges, keeping metros from operating, withdrawing bank funds, calling in sick to work, not taking children to school, skipping university classes, with a call out for those outside city border to also join the protesters on Baghramyan Street, in front of the National Assembly. While the crowds were smaller before the election of the prime minister, they have increased to over 16000 and counting, while Tuesday’s rally is being said to have officially numbered 40,000, the biggest Armenia has ever seen. Schools and universities are open and classes continuing as usual, however. Businesses are also mostly all open, despite certain companies seeing large numbers of employees join in the protests.
Over the past few days, dozens have been detained, many injured – including both police officers and protesters, stun grenades and barbed wire used, property and infrastructure damaged, and the protests have reached beyond Yerevan, into Gyumri and Vanadzor as well. To date, the official number stands at around 46 people who have sought medical attention. There is even photo documentation of police breaking the law which states they must clearly be seen, entering the crowds with ski masks. BTR-2 armored vehicles have also been driving around the streets where protests are happening. Heavily armed riot police checkpoints have also been set up around the National Assembly perimeter. The official hashtag in Armenian is #ՄերժիրՍերժին, while in English one can follow #RejectSerj. The protests have been held for a week, today.
Written by Rima Yeghiazarian and Tamar Najarian