By Ani Mejlumyan
YEREVAN (Eurasianet) — When Serzh Sargsyan cast his vote at a school gymnasium in Armenia’s December 9 parliamentary elections, it took several tries for the machine reading his fingerprints to recognize him. A video of the event went viral in Armenia; it was a rare public appearance for the former president — and once the country’s most recognizable man — who since being cast out of office last April has been almost completely invisible.
Sargsyan was the target of the massive street protests that eventually led to his ouster; the main slogan of the demonstrations was “Reject Serzh.” His resignation in April after 10 years in power prompted unprecedented scenes of jubilation across the country.
But unlike most former post-Soviet heads of state, Sargsyan has remained in his country after leaving office, and unlike many of his associates and family members he has been spared from the wave of prosecutions being carried out by the new authorities against corrupt members of the old regime.
Sargsyan is now living quietly in the village of Dzoraghbyur, just outside Yerevan, in a house belonging to his son-in-law Mikael Minasyan, but commutes regularly into Yerevan to work. The government offered Sargsyan an official residence, but he rejected it “for security reasons,” one source close to the former president told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity. (Attempts to reach Sargsyan through his spokesman failed.)
The source said that Sargsyan’s disappearance from public life is in part due to “the current atmosphere,” in which the political conversation is dominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who led the “Reject Serzh” movement in the spring before taking over from Sargsyan. “He keeps track of everything, but he doesn’t plan on speaking out any time soon.” As for Facebook, Armenia’s primary source of political expression, the source said that Sargsyan doesn’t read it himself but is regularly briefed on the most salient discussions.