Yesterday I went to the third of five scheduled public forums held at Liberty Square organized by the Barevolution movement for this week. More will be taking place in the near future. A public rally is scheduled for Friday at 6 pm.
The forum speakers were Karapet Rubinyan, who was the deputy parliament speaker from 1995 to 1998, and human rights defender Avetik Ishkhanyan. Both of them spoke effectively, with brief, potent comments. They were to the point and even blunt in their answers to questions posed by the moderator as well as some in attendance. And you could tell, especially with Rubinyan, that they weren’t feeding the public with banal rhetoric, but were speaking from the heart. Both of them are clearly impassioned when it comes to Armenia’s future, as are many other spokesmen for the movement like Nikol Pashinyan and Andreas Ghukasian.
It was refreshing to hear such an exchange of opinions coming from intellectuals in a public space. This type of forum in Armenia is unprecedented, or at least I have not seen it before, and if that’s the case it’s unfortunate since I am likely not the only one with a Western background who hasn’t encountered it. This is true democracy in action where people can exchange ideas freely, and although there were several police officers weaving through the crowd (and likely undercover ones as well) whose very presence can be intimidating, that didn’t faze anyone. There were only a few hundred people in attendance, perhaps a little more, most of who were middle aged, but there was an energy that permeated that crowd, and the understanding that democracy can actually work in Armenia was definitely getting through.
In the closing remarks Raffi Hovannisian, nine days into the hunger strike, made the point that the Barevolution has reached all strata of society–in universities, cafés, public squares, homes. In other words, the turnout at the forum should not be a sign that the movement is losing steam. You don’t have to physically be in Liberty Square to support the movement, and in the social media, especially in the comments section of some online newspapers, you read a lot of this negativity, disinformation that people are giving up on Raffi. It’s simply not true.
Naturally the authorities are saying anything they can to discredit the movement. Serge Sargsyan was quoted by RFE/RL on March 18 stating, “What should I talk with Raffi Hovannisian about? What should I negotiate on with a man who is bitter at the world and has been hungry for eight days?” Anyone who has actually heard Raffi speak knows just the opposite–that he is the most optimistic, forward-thinking politician out there today. And Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party who is infamous for making bizarre statements to the press, said in reference to the movement that “I’m starting to believe that some religious sect is behind them. It is provoking and managing them.” When pressed to identify the sect he of course said he didn’t know. But I can tell him now that the “sect” is the Armenian citizenry, and their “religion” is the demand for democracy and the rule of law to properly function in Armenia. It’s that simple.
Whether or not you agree that Raffi has a “plan” and knows what he is doing–which he insists he does (see my interview)–there is no question that he embodies the qualities and convictions of a true visionary. And that’s something the authorities don’t know how to handle, since there’s no one likeminded among them.