Jubilation in Armenia

In Stunning Turn of Events, Sargsyan Resigns; US, PACE Issue Supportive Yet Cautious Statements

154
0

YEREVAN (RFE/RL and Public Radio of Armenia) — US Ambassador Richard Mills on Tuesday, April 24, praised the Armenian police and anti-government protesters led by Nikol Pashinyan for avoiding bloodshed during their 11-day standoff that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan on Monday, April 23.

“This is a day to commend,” Mills told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The protesters, the demonstrators, the Armenian people came out in a peaceful and orderly way under the leadership of Mr. Pashinyan.”

He noted the “professionalism” of Armenian security forces shown during the sustained protests against Sargsyan, while urging the authorities to investigate instances of violence against some protesters and journalists.

“This is a great moment for the Armenian people and the spirit of democracy in this country,” stressed the envoy.

Mills also commended Sargsyan, saying that the former president acted like a “real leader” and listened to “the voice of the Armenian people” when he stepped down on Monday.

 

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

A statement by the US State Department thanked the former premier for helping to strengthen US-Armenian relations during his ten-year rule. It expressed hope that his successor will be chosen in a transparent and constitutional manner. The statement also called on Armenia’s leading political groups to “avoid an escalation of the situation and any violent actions.”

Demonstrators in Republic Square on Monday April 23

Karen Karapetyan, who took over as Armenia’s acting prime minister, is due to start crisis talks with Pashinyan on Wednesday. The opposition leader has publicly voiced a number of political demands, including the holding of snap general elections.

“We look forward to working with Mr. Karapetyan, the acting prime minister, in the days ahead,” said Mills. All sides should resume their dialogue to “agree on the steps forward,” he added.

After initially announcing the meeting, late on Tuesday Karapetyan scuttled the meeting, complaining that Pashinyan was dictating the terms of the meeting.

Armenia’s Prime Minister stepped down on Monday after 10 days of street protests against his attempt to extend his decade-long rule.

“[Opposition leader] Nikol Pashinyan was right,” he said in a written address to the nation. “I was mistaken. There are several solutions to the existing situation but I will not opt for any of them. They are not to my liking.”

“I am resigning from the post of prime minister, leader of the country,” he declared.

“The movement in the streets is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand. I wish our country peace, harmony and common sense,” he said.

A huge impromptu street party broke out on Mashtots, the main avenue of Yerevan, after Sargsyan announced his resignation.

The announcement sparked jubilant scenes in the streets of Yerevan filled with hundreds of thousands of people demanding his resignation. The sound of car horns and fireworks reverberated across the Armenian capital.

Jubilant crowds converged on the city’s central Republic Square. Some of them sang, danced and clapped their hands.

“I have grown so used to [Sargsyan’s] lies that I just can’t believe he has resigned,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Everyone is euphoric now but the hardest part starts now.”

“We have achieved our goal and everything will be alright from now on,” said another, younger woman.

It was not immediately clear whether Sargsyan’s exit will be followed by fresh parliamentary elections.

Armenia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan is serving as premier at least in the interim.

In the immediate wake of the resignation, the entire cabinet submitted its resignation to President Armen Sarkisian.

Meeting Between Leaders

Sargsyan publicly rejected the demands for his resignation as recently as on Sunday morning. At a televised meeting with Pashinyan, he accused the opposition leader of blackmailing “the legitimate authorities of the state.” “A faction that got 7-8 percent of the vote [in the April 2017 parliamentary elections] cannot speak on behalf of the people,” he said, referring to the opposition Yelk bloc, of which Pashinyan is a leader.

Pashinyan was detained more than an hour after that tense meeting while holding a fresh demonstration in Yerevan. The arrest only added to popular anger with Sargsyan, with tens of thousands of people flocking to Republic Square on Sunday night.

The protests resumed in Yerevan and other Armenian cities the following morning. Pashinyan was set free in the afternoon shortly after Karapetyan visited him in custody.

Sargsyan, 63, is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh who was one of the disputed region’s top military commanders during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He was appointed as Armenia’s defense minister in 1993 and went on to hold other key security positions in Yerevan.

He was first elected president in a hotly disputed 2008 ballot marred by opposition allegations of fraud and a deadly post-election government crackdown on protesters in Yerevan. His reelection in 2013 was also denounced as fraudulent by Armenia’s leading opposition groups.

In 2014, Sargsyan initiated a controversial constitutional reform that turned Armenia into a parliamentary republic. He stated at the time that he “will not aspire” to the post of prime minister after completing his second presidential term on April 9, 2018.

Sargsyan downplayed that pledged last month when he signaled his plans to become prime minister and thus remain the country’s most powerful man. He cited the increased risk of renewed war in Karabakh and other security challenges facing Armenia.

Pashinyan Takes Center Stage

Pashinyan, 42, began his nonstop protests in Yerevan after a two-week walking tour of Armenia’s northern and central regions. His movement has proved particularly popular with young Armenians, who have taken to the streets in unprecedentedly large numbers.

continued on next page

from previous page

Hours after forcing the prime minister to resign, Pashinyan said he will meet with Armenia’s new and acting premier, Karen Karapetyan, on Wednesday for talks on a “transfer of power to the people.”

Pashinyan said they will discuss, among other things, the holding of fresh parliamentary elections in the “shortest possible logical period of time.”

The leader of the protest movement made the announcement as tens of thousands of people rallied in Yerevan’s Republic Square to celebrate the resignation of the man who has ruled Armenia for the last ten years. “The first phase of our popular velvet revolution is over,” he declared.

Karapetyan took over as Armenia’s top government official at an emergency meeting held following Sargsyan’s resignation. “Ongoing political development must not affect our normal work in any way,” he told ministers. “I am calling on our fellow citizens and political forces to show utmost vigilance and respect for the law and rights of other citizens.”

In remarks publicized by the government’s press office, Karapetyan made no mention of the elections demanded by Pashinyan.

It is unclear whether Sargsyan will also resign as chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which holds the majority of seats in the parliament. Karapetyan is the party’s first deputy chairman.

In his speech, Pashinyan warned Sargsyan against trying to maintain his hold on power from behind the scenes. “I hope that the HHK leadership will explicitly and unconditionally recognize the victory of the popular velvet revolution,” he said.

The Armenian constitution gives parliamentary parties seven days to propose candidates for prime minister. The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that his party expects to nominate the next premier as well.

Baghdasarian declined to speculate about possible candidacies. He said the party leadership will make a decision after Karapetyan’s talks with Pashinyan and other political leaders.

For its part, the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), expressed hope that Armenia’s leading political groups will agree on an “agenda that would include a timetable and a roadmap for rapid reforms necessary for the country.”

Meanwhile, other opposition parties hailed Sargsyan’s exit. Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) said it paves the way for the “establishment of democracy in the country.” The HAK too called for a “smooth transfer of power.”

Pashinyan also reached out to those Armenians who might feel threatened by Sargsyan’s ouster. “I want to appeal to entrepreneurs who are worried about this political process and … may be packing up to leave the country or remove capital from Armenia,” he said. “Please do not do that because there will be no vendettas, no hatred, no revenge.” He vowed to strive for an “atmosphere of national unity.”

Pashinyan was also anxious to deny any “geopolitical” implications of the unfolding regime change in Yerevan. In that context, he described as “very important” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman’s reaction to the dramatic events in Armenia.

“Armenia, Russia is always with you!” the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on Facebook.

“I hope there will be similar reactions from other key representatives of the international community,” said Pashinyan.

On April 24, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Karen Karapetyan met with Artsakh Republic President Bako Sahakyan.

A range of issues related to the cooperation between the two Armenian states were on the agenda.

The current internal political situation in Armenia was touched upon during the meeting. The sides highlighted the necessity of maintaining stability in the country and ensuring its normal functioning.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Armenia, Giuseppe Galati (Italy, EPP/CD) and Yuliya Lovochkina (Ukraine, SOC), on April 24 reacted to the developments.

“We welcome the courageous decision of Prime Minister Sargsyan to resign from his post in order to defuse the mounting tensions in the country. We hope that this will lead to a new and constructive dialogue between all political forces in the country with the aim of finding a lasting solution to the current situation, in line with the relevant Constitutional provisions,” said the co-rapporteurs.

In the meanwhile they stressed that all who were detained while peacefully demonstrating should be released and the right to peaceful assembly should be fully respected. At the same time, they expressed concern at reports from the Ombudsman of increased hate speech and even incitement to violence against individuals on social media, and called for the fundamental rights of all citizens to be respected.

The co-rapporteurs announced that they will continue to follow developments in Yerevan closely.

 

 

 

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: