"Bloodless" poster: Supporters of Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan celebrate in Yerevan's Republic Square on May 8, 2018 after weeks of protest when Pashinyan elected prime minister (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Bloodless — The Path to Democracy’: A Film by Bared Maronian and Silva Basmajian

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Reviewed by Christopher Atamian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Bared Maronian’s “Bloodless” relates the gripping story of the 2018 Velvet Revolution, which saw the overthrow of Serzh Sargsyan’s oligarchic regime in Yerevan. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Velvet Revolution, which brought to power the tech-savvy and democratic leader Nikol Pashinyan in unprecedented circumstances. Using social media to mobilize a citizenry at first made up almost entirely of the country’s youth, Pashinyan was able to force the existing prime minister to resign and after two votes in parliament was elected de facto prime minister on May 8.

Aerial shot of Republic Square in “Bloodless”

The Lebanese-born Maronian is an experienced filmmaker and four-time Regional Emmy Award winner. Previous works include “Orphans of the Genocide” (2013) and “Women of 1915” (2016), which examined the plight of Armenian women during and after the Armenian Genocide.

Children of repatriated Armenians join the peaceful civil disobedience movement (Photo courtesy Bared Maronian)

Maronian’s newest effort is commendable given the fact that he didn’t originally plan to make a documentary about Pashinyan and the Velvet Revolution. Rather, his project took form organically during a visit to Armenia that happened to coincide with the events that he so ably describes in “Bloodless”: “One beautiful spring morning, while resting in my hotel room in Yerevan, Armenia, I heard a commotion coming from outside. I opened the window and saw thousands of young men and women chanting while marching. I immediately grabbed my camera, ran down to the street and followed the march capturing the sights and sounds of what I was experiencing.” Over the coming month, his camera recorded what is undoubtedly one of the most successful peaceful revolutions in recent history, along with Czechoslovakia’s Gentle Revolution of 1989 and the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon.

Maronian’s film intercuts found footage and his own shots of the revolution with interviews of government officials, United Nations Resident Coordinator Shombi Sharp as well as local media personalities such as EVN report’s Maria Titizian. At times his reliance on their opinions to push forth the narration makes his film feel more like a “Frontline” television report than a documentary film, but it works nevertheless.

Shombi Sharp UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia, production shot (Copyright Armenoid Productions)

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To my mind, Maronian’s great strength in the documentary is to emphasize and give voice to people who have found themselves silenced in traditional Armenian patriarchy, most noticeably women. From diasporans such as Arsinée Khanjian who flew to Armenia to lend her support to the revolution, to the nameless women who shook pots and pans outside their windows in support, to the young girls who risked their lives by lying down in front of buses and cars in order to send a message to then Prime Minister Sargsyan, Maronian shows in no uncertain terms the link between the peaceful nature of the revolution and the relatively large number of women who participated in the April events.

He highlights the relationship between the April 24th genocide commemoration and the Velvet Revolution’s success, both in steeling the youth’s resolve and in weakening the government’s desire to use force on its own people. The protagonists on both sides, after all, are the grandchildren of the Medz Yeghern.

President Armen Sarkissian in “Bloodless” screenshot (Copyright Armenoid Productions)

Maronian also draws attention to President Armen Sarkissian’s judicious decision to go down into the streets and later skillfully negotiate Sargsyan’s resignation. It would of course have been interesting to hear the voice of the previous government: we encounter a resolute but ultimately resigned Chief of Police Valery Osipyan and then Sargsyan himself — but only briefly.

Maronian might have explained what opposed the two parties, apart from general discontent with the existing stagnant economy and unease at oligarchic rule. Non-Armenian viewers in particular may have a hard time judging everything that was at stake and what the former regime represented: apart from the opening credits, Sargsyan and his allies exist as a mostly ghost-like presence.

There is also little exposition of Pashinyan himself: his childhood and formative years, his career in journalism, or his political views.

Technically, the film could benefit from some more judicious editing—at 94 minutes it goes

Nikol Pashinyan leading protests, “Bloodless” screen shot

on a bit too long for this reviewer’s taste. And given Maronian’s astute gender analysis of the events in question, it would have been nice to hear more about Anna Hakobyan, Pashinyan’s clever activist wife who stood steadfastly at his side throughout. That being said, anyone interested in Armenian affairs or pro-Democracy movements will benefit from learning about the remarkable events that seemingly out of nowhere shook this small Caucasian Republic to it foundations.

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