Photo Credit: Roubina Margossian (EVN Report)
Armenia’s new president, Armen Sargsyan, issued a statement on April 26, calling the outcome of the Velvet Revolution, also known as the Revolution of Love and Solidarity. With the future still quite hazy in terms of the country’s politics and socio-economics, we have gathered opinions from some of the repatriates who have been directly or indirectly involved in the whole process. Each is entitled to their opinions, and with new information being released per hour, it is also subject to change.
The official statement by Repat Armenia Foundation concerning the current situation can be found on our website. Here are 8 different viewpoints of repatriates from Russia, the US, Canada, Syria, Germany and Argentina on what is occurring and where the country is heading in the near future.
Areg Galstyan - Regular Contributor to Forbes, The Hill and The National Interest. Head of The Armenian Centre
(Repatriated from Russia in 2017)
I think the main step we should be taking is to force oligarch groups both within Armenia and outside, to stop utilizing their wealth to buy their way into government positions. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important threats to a nation’s sovereignty. Moreover, the oligarchy should not decide on the political structure of the country; it can be transformed as a political force or financial donor for national political parties whose activities are aimed at the protection of national interests, but should never use its financial capability to manipulate the state to meet one’s own financial goals.
Should this threat be eliminated, a new field would be entered where a national consensus starting from the coming month would be driven by the interests of the majority, ensuring state sovereignty. This would be a stage where the interests of the people are the main goal. The political forces focusing on the Armenian aspect and using this Armenian-centrism as a guiding point will agree that they will be the shapers of the country’s future.
My recommendation is that such political forces and political parties abandon their restricted internal party interests and declare under the common consensus that “from today forward, our united party becomes our country, Armenia,” and temporarily formulate a common agenda that includes all the country's problems, social, economic, domestic and foreign political issues. Only then, when a single immunity can be achieved, they can form separate, narrow cells that will already have political orientation.
Asdghig Ashekian - Contracting Specialist
(Repatriated from Syria in 2013)
There are different opinions on what’s happening in Armenia right now. I believe we’re only witnessing the tip of the iceberg, and there are a lot to be uncovered in the upcoming days, months or years.
What is true and real is that Armenian citizens, especially the youth, are sick of eating grechka and kartofil, missing their dads who have turned khoban, witnessing unfair imprisonments and watching criminal oligarchs walk free, while enduring certain imposed business constraints; the list goes on and on…
It is a reality that in the past days this youth has been guided with noble means to express themselves, their anger and yearning clear to have a fair and democratic republic. The media played a large role in advertising and supporting it all, especially since the last straw was the moment the former president pushed his agenda forward and became prime minister.
Now, on the 13th day of the Velvet Revolution, many of the young people who were crying of happiness on the 23rd of April when the PM resigned, are awakening and re-evaluating their point of view on all of what’s happening. Maybe because of the chaos that the country is going through, both on the governmental/state and streets levels, or perhaps because of the contradictory and disappointing announcements and calls that are made by the revolutionary activists, but the power struggle is all over the place. These young people want the problems in the country to be solved, they don’t want to replace the old regime with a similar one. If we all proved our political maturity, stepped away from extremism, and made the right choices through votes based on the programs of the political parties, we will build a stronger, fair, and more independent Armenia.
In today’s critical conditions I see it is crucial to maintain:
-Our national sovereignty and self-rule, and forbid any kind of external interference
-Our national security and current status on the borders with our neighbors.
-Rule of Law above all on the street level, using the constitution as a guide and reaching an agreement as soon as possible - on a temporary parliament and PM, as well as organizing early parliamentary elections. These wouldn’t happen without compromises from all parties.
-Objective judgment; prioritize the good of our country and people over our emotions, enthusiasm and the excitement of “victory”
We are not a nation to allow our homeland to be ripped apart in front of our eyes. We are not a nation that kills its own people over any kind of disagreement. I believe in my people. I believe in the 5000 years of my nation’s wisdom. We have survived genocide. Together we can survive anything.
William Bairamian- Political Scientist and Writer
(Repatriated from the US in 2015)
Contrary to popular opinion, building a country and its institutions isn't easy. The stability and discipline of those institutions - the police, military, and others - in carrying out their duties despite the volatility within the country is a testament to Serzh Sargsyan's work while he was president. The leaders of the current movement, especially Nikol Pashinyan, should be wary of weakening the state structures that keep us safe from internal chaos and external dangers. This includes making appeals to the police to join their movement, thus abandoning their responsibility as apolitical public servants charged with keeping the peace.
I'm also concerned about suggestions by Pashinyan that voting for a prime minister should happen in the public square, which would be a step back toward the Middle Ages instead of toward progress. Likewise, his and his team's rhetoric, laced with ultimatums about how things must be done, reek of the authoritarianism that they purportedly wanted to expel. Ultimatums cannot lead to the peaceful transition that the protesters want and should be avoided in favor of negotiations that lead to resolutions based on the law, not populism.
Finally, Armenia remains a country at war. This isn't a scare tactic - it's reality. That requires that the festive mood of the protesters doesn't devolve into chaos and anarchy, like the drunken revelry of the past few nights or the unruly driving that has led to the death of a one year-old child. Any significant instability can lead our enemies to take advantage of the situation and that is simply not acceptable.
All of Armenia must come to terms with the developments of the past few weeks but it is my hope that the country will remain strong and that new leaders will emerge who eschew demagoguery in favor of selfless dedication to their country and its safety, stability, and growth. I also hope that the people actively engaged in this process will use the same energy they've exhibited over the past weeks toward the less glamorous work that has been ongoing for the past 26 years of building Armenia.
I love this country and believe in its future and none of the recent events have changed that. After all, love of and belief in your country shouldn't be conditioned on who holds what position.
Beatriz Arslanian - Journalist and Marketing Specialist
(Repatriated from Argentina in 2015)
We all expected a change in Armenia; a necessary change towards democratization and the end of the regime that ruled for so many years. In my opinion, during these days the Armenian people were able to become aware of the power they can exercise when they go out to the streets and challenge what they deem wrong. There is nothing better for the Armenia of the 21st century than an empowered people, capable of discussing, deciding and working for its present and its future. I think, this is the most valuable thing to come through this "revolution."
On the other hand, I think the Armenian people always felt the need to identify themselves with a political figure that did not exist at the time, and today someone is trying to occupy that place. This someone also seems close to the people and different from the political figures to whom we are accustomed.
Honestly, I hope that in the same way the united population ensured the resignation of Prime Minister Sargsyan through its mobilization, we have the capacity to evaluate - leaving aside the euphoria and the emotion of all the intense changes of these days, which figure we want as the leader of our country. It is extremely important to deeply analyze every point about this figure, including his past and his present, the ideological structure of his political party, his proposals for the economic growth of Armenia, his perspectives around the situation of Artsakh, his plans around foreign policy, his ideas on the promotion of repatriation, and, above all, his attitude towards showing respect for the Constitution and the democratic principles of our new system of government. Once we as citizens take into account all these points, we will be able to decide what leaders we want and what road to take in order to contribute to the development of our nation.
Raffi Elliott - Founder of GetTreated.co
(Repatriated from Canada in 2011)
On Monday afternoon, I witnessed a hundred thousand of my compatriots descending in unison on Republic Square. Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s two-term president who had just spend the previous 10 days attempting to consolidate power as the country’s Prime Minister, officially announced that he was throwing in the towel, under the weight of the people’s demands. His resignation came on the eve of the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
As Armenians across the country broke into cheers and hugs, many took to social media to express their pride in being Armenian on that day, and their renewed faith in a positive future for their country. The victory was as much a political one (a nation removed an authoritarian figure in the post-Soviet space through a sustained and disciplined campaign of peaceful civil disobedience), as it was a psychological one: The Armenian people, who, for decades of failed politics, had convinced themselves that nothing could change, now discovered they they did have agency over their political destiny.
What transpired on April 23 should be seen as the culmination of a cultural revolution. The new Armenia would from now on have a different, more mature political culture. Nikol Pashinyan, the charismatic journalist turned firebrand opposition leader, was smart enough not to leave this ‘revolution’ unfinished. Sargsyan had resigned but he was still chairman of the ruling Republican Party, which in turn still controls parliament, still controls the courts, the Central Election Committee and all the other administrative resources which would ensure its continued domination of the political process.
As people returned to the streets on the 25th, cracks in the oligarchic apparatus began to appear and real concessions were made. The ARF and Prosperous Armenia parties defected. The police stood down. The stage is now set for regime change, and Pashinyan seems all but destined to be the next Prime Minister.
Through these events, Pashinyan has shown himself to be a tough negotiator who refused to back down or compromise until the final victory was in reach. Now, the question is whether he will know when the right time is to negotiate and when to compromise.He faces a dilemma where, on the one hand, he needs to ensure his ability to maintain continuity of the Armenian government (which, in a country ruled over by a single-party establishment for the better part of two decades, means cutting deals with unsavoury figures), without compromising his reputation and integrity amongst his supporters.
Now that the euphoria settles the more mondaine, and more difficult part begins: creating a new government. Many might be disappointed by some of the necessary compromises, some of the most despised figures in the current government might escape justice, temporary instability might hurt the economy in the short term. Justice, economic prosperity and happiness won’t come immediately. It’s about the long-term game now.
My hope now is that a Pashinyan government will resist the temptation to scrap every policy that the Republicans have implemented; instead, he should continue those that work (tax free zones, solar farms, agribusiness, etc.) and expand on them. The task now is to strengthen judicial independence, pursue free trade with our partners, and guarantee personal and economic freedoms of citizens in order to make Armenia attractive for future repatriates and investors alike.
Some may not trust Pashinyan, but that is irrelevant. What matters is the process. We now know that we can elect leaders to represent us, and vote them out when they no longer represent our interests. Armenia has a bright future. Enough waiting on the sidelines for things to get better. Now is the time to be a part of it.
Aramazt Kalayjian - Communications Expert and Designer
(Repatriated from the US in 2012)
I would like to quote my friend, anthropologist and lecturer Karolina Pawłowska, with whom I completely agree. “Armenia needs a leader with ethics, a person who can remind constantly about the principles of democracy and transparency regardless of party alignment. Management skills can come later, right now the nation needs a leader who can remind people that this is a peaceful transition, that corruption has consequences and transparency in leadership is truly king. What we need now is someone who can be a harbinger of a new ethical and moral code not a person who has a PhD in economics. Leave the management to after the country has regained its moral founding. Corrupt power corrupts the whole nation, not just those in power. What we need is a moral symbol of justice until we all learn what is right and what is wrong. Simple and sound.”
Narek Aslikyan - Technical Recruitment Expert
(Repatriated from Russia in 2016)
As an Armenian citizen, I took part in the protests from the day one. I’m sure that until now we’ve proved our revolution has the right aim, no matter who is the leader of it. The removal of this clan inside the government is proceeding successfully. There are many expectations from this change of power and I expect active repatriation in response to it all. On the very same day of the resignation, I began hearing about many people’s plans to repatriate.
It’s very important to know who is going to be working alongside the new prime minister in governing positions, including who is going to be appointed minister of education, defence and foreign affairs. The one who takes temporary control of the prime minister’s seat is a secondary issue, but I would like to see Pashinyan in that position as a show of gratitude by the people for leading the revolution.
Artashes Margaryan- Founder and CEO of Code-Bridge CJSC
(Repatriated from Germany in 2015)
This revolution has already succeeded with the resignation of Prime Minister Serj Sarkissian. The most important thing for me now is not to see the disappointment of youth, who are the spirit and driving force of it. Whether they decide to go further and change the ruling government, eliminate or weaken the Republican Party’s positions, the solutions offered should satisfy everyone involved. We are the creators of a new era for Armenia, and, in my opinion, the whole movement is not about who is going to be the leader, but rather about how the process will go, what steps will be taken.
There is no space for oligarchy; clearly, people are fed up with it. It’s also important to take into consideration the fact that the ruling Republican party is de jure in power. We should understand the importance of negotiations. Nikol Pashinyan is a very emotional character and, now, having the support of majority, which he hadn’t have for over 20 years of his political career, leads to ultimatums in the negotiation process. I strongly believe that if there is a problem there should be a discussion in order to find the best solution.
If we wish to build rule of law in our country, we must be prepared to have a round table conversation to find the best solutions not for individuals but society as a whole, for all of Armenia. As such, I would like to see Nikol Pashinyan and Karen Karapetyan negotiating and finding common ground, doing all they can to prevent unnecessary quarrels. My fear when it comes to Nikol is his emotional character. He is enjoying the euphoria of popularity right now and capitalizing on it, given that within the past 20 years of political service, he has not had this much support from the people.
If I were Karen Karapetyan, I would resign from my position as prime minister, use my power as the chairman of the Republican Party to clean out the oligarchy, and prepare for the upcoming elections with a new team, a new mandate. Only in this case would they have a chance to remain in the political arena, and perhaps even remain as a majority, because this has begun to turn into a battle for the throne. I do not believe that Karen Karapetyan would attempt to be elected prime minister, no only because Nikol Pashinyan has already stated that this move would be boycotted and he has no wish to see his people hurt in the streets, but purely because he would not want to be despised for such a move. One should strive not to be a hated ruler, something that we have seen too many times since independence.
I cannot imagine how Nikol plans to monitor the elections, what means will be necessary to utilize, but that is all technicalities. In any case, we must abide by the law and understand that coming into power through illegal means but trying to enforce the law thereafter would be hypocritical and against our value systems.
On April 23, 2018, the former president appointed to the role of Prime Minister officially resigned from his position. Following this announcement, champagne bubbled and merriment took hold of the entire nation, with celebrations taking place in public squares as well as private dwellings. While the youth and protesters in general were dancing in the streets and congratulating all that passed by, honking car horns and cheering non-stop, the defections had begun. Parties switched sides, individuals joined the people’s movement, the police force announced that it is an apolitical faction and will not get involved in the current processes, and ruling party members pledged allegiance to the opposition as Armenia faced an unprecedented obstacle brought about by victory.
While the constitution is clear on the process for choosing an alternate candidate should there be such unforeseen circumstances, the Velvet Revolution, dubbed the Revolution of Love and Solidarity, demands slight changes to this process. His demands following the resignation of the Prime Minister are:
1. The appointment of the people’s candidate for Prime Minister
2. The formation of an interim government
3. Snap elections
The problem here is the calling for a “people’s candidate” while also stating that no Republican Party member will make that shortlist. EVN Report has come up with three possible scenarios in this case:
1. Political factions in the parliament come to a consensus around a national unity candidate (in this case the “people’s candidate”) and that person is nominated.
2. Republicans ignore the protests and Pashinyan’s demands, and nominate their own candidate, potentially using force to disperse the demonstrations and suppress the movement.
3. Republican Party nominates its own candidate, doesn’t secure enough votes in parliament for two consecutive times, parliament is dissolved, and snap elections are held.
Resignations of ministers began early and have been continuing to date, with the latest being ARF members alongside other ministers in the National Assembly. It has also been announced that the deadline for nominating candidates for prime minister is April 30, with the National Assembly announcing the new leader on May 1, exactly at noon, through a special session. It should also be noted that Serzh Sargsyan is stepping down from his position as party chairman, as well. Tsarukyan Allian has joined the people’s movement with the ARF also following, bringing their combined 38 votes over to YELQ’s nine. He would need at least 53 votes to secure his place, meaning there needs to be at least 6 defections. However, neither party has confirmed that their votes would be directed towards Pashinyan as prime minister. At the moment, Karen Karapetyan is the acting deputy PM.
To follow with the latest reports, the hashtag has been changed from #RejectSerj or #ՄերժիրՍերժին to #RejectHHK and #YerevanProtests. As of April 26, a freeze has been called on most civil disobedience acts in order to prevent more mishaps after people began removing license plates and driving around town breaking rules. Rallies are being held on a regular basis at 7pm each evening.
Written by Rima Yeghiazarian and Tamar Najarian