Category Archives: Politics

Revolution diary

April 16, 2018 | So what?

It’s a peaceful, quiet Sunday, 5:30 pm. I’m downtown, near Cascade, almost finishing a photo shoot for a friend’s gallery. I’m impatient to join Pashinyan’s daily rally. I get a call from my friend Anush, pack my camera and walk to the France square to meet her. What I see is about 100 people, several tents and a stage-like construction. Somehow I feel very proud to be there. The song “My Step” is playing around all the time. It’s a bit cold. Everyone is calm and relaxed. Disappointed by the number of people and the calmness of the protestants,  I decide to walk down Mashtots street to meet Anush, hoping that by 6 pm more people will join. We greet each other and walk back the France Square. Now there are around 200 people. But who makes a revolution with 200 people?  We both are very indifferent. We try to act as caring citizens but actually we do not understand what is the aim of the protest. The rally starts. We find a comfortable place and stand next to two old women. Some old guy takes the microphone and starts talking about Armenian stones, how profitable could those be and how bad is our government. We are listening to a boring,  and pathetic speech very much like those in Soviet Union. The old women curse the government after every second word. They are funny though and seem to be more excited than all the young protesters out there. It is getting colder. Pashinyan has not spoken yet. We become nervous. It’s time to go home.

I barely find a marshrutka to get home. After a huge disappointment, I blame Pashinyan for blocking the streets and justify myself for leaving the rally, “At least you came, Arpine, you should not feel guilty anymore.”

But I keep asking this question, “ Dear Mr.Pashinyan, you have blocked the Freedom square, and you have been protesting for several days, so what? ” An hour later, he calls for massive civil disobedience starting the next day, April 17.

April 17, 2018 | Let’s do it

9 am, morning, I’m still on my bed. My hand automatically goes to my phone, I barely open eyes and my Facebook feed is filled with information about protests. The headlines say “Students have started mass protests, the streets are blocked..”

The whole city is shut down. All the streets that lead to the city center are blocked.  I decide to join the students, and there is only one way to get into the Yerevan State University. I run to the bus stop, catch a marshrutka and drive to the upper part of the Cascade. As always, the marshrutka is packed. I turn on Azatutyun live and try to catch up with the events.  The driver also turns on the radio. The whole marshrutka discusses the student protest. It seems like people are against it.

“These poor kids do not understand that they cannot change anything,” an old lady says, “it’s useless, this government will never change.” I want to argue, but I shout myself: it’s not the right time. Anush calls me. She is there. Hundreds of students are there.I get out of the marshrutka but immediately stop. God, Ararat is so beautiful. Even our mount wants us to fight for a better country. I decide to capture it.

Ararat on April 17, 2018

Anush informs me that thousands of students are near the Yerevan State University. She’s very excited. While I run down the  Cascade stairs, I try to catch up with live stream. 10 minutes later I’m there, with students. It’s hard to believe there are so many of us. I hug Anush tightly. I look at her eyes and say, “I’m starting a journey with you, and I’ll be with you till the very end.” She smiles. We start marching and calling people to join us. There is no such thing as an AUA student, Yerevan State University Student, or Conservatory Student. There is independence generation fighting for a better country. Independence generation wants to be independent. Hour by hour more students join. We do not stop marching. Women look from their balconies and cry. They seem to be very proud.

Thousands of students near Medical University on April 17, 2018 

Hours later, we join Nikol Pashinyan. He leads us to the National Assembly. The Baghramyan street is blocked. The riot police are on the other side. And then there is an explosion…I see how grenades fall on people. My heart beats faster. Some of my friends start panicking. The second grenade exploits. Seconds later we see wounded people and blood. Ambulance sirens do not stop. I’m scared. Anush starts crying: she’s emotionally devastated. I don’t know what to do. Some of EVN report staff is right there, near the barricades. My parents keep calling me. There is chaos around.  I do not feel anything. I somehow get home. I am psychologically devastated. My aunt calls me and starts blaming for being a protestor. I can hardly speak. My tears flow down my face. I start shouting at her. I cannot stop crying. I feel so detached from her.  She is not my role model anymore. She does not believe in youth.

April 18-21 | I believe

My days start early. I don’t go to classes because I protest, and help EVN report to spread the English-language news. I don’t eat and sleep properly. There’s a massive rally at 7. Pashinyan speaks, and then thousands march through the city. And then we go home. This has become a daily routine. So many things happen at the same time. My friends and my professors are next to me. I doubt that Serzh Sargsyan will resign. But I believe in our generation. I believe Nikol Pashinyan and his vision. My country is facing a significant change, and I am proud to be a part of it. Emotions overflow me. Words cannot describe what I feel.

Revolution by generations | April 18, 2018 

Nikol Pashinyan and his wife resting after a long march throughout Yerevan on April 19, 2018

April 22,  2018 | Fear

It’s a rainy day. Nikol Pashinyan has been arrested. People do not stop protesting. It’s around 2 pm. I call Anush. We both cry on the two sides of the phone. We want to believe that everything will be fine, but we cannot. Our Roubina from EVN is wounded. I feel hatred towards our government. I do not want to live in this country…I cannot think, I cannot eat, I cannot drink. This chaos does not end.

There’s a big rally without Nikol. I walk down Komitas street. People have blocked the streets. A guy shouts, “ This is our people’s protests, and not Nikol’s, we will not stop protesting.” He gives me hope. It’s almost 7 pm. We don’t know what to think. Mr. Garbis joins us. There are thousands and thousands of people coming from different parts of the city. It’s unbelievable yet chaotic without Nikol. We don’t know what’s going on. I’m terrified. What’s next?

April 22, a rally without Nikol Pashinyan

April 23, 2018 | Welcome to the world, New Armenia

Finally, I decide to go to class. The streets city are blocked, and the only way to get to the university is to walk. I take my camera, and photograph people in the crossroads. Everyone seems to be strong beside the fact that Pashinyan and his supporters are arrested. I sit in the back, my phone on my desk, my eyes following the live stream. Regular rallies. Streets are shut down; people are protesting. Nikol Pashinyan is still arrested. No significant news. We are somehow very indifferent. AUA is very quiet. We go eat at the cafeteria, I look at my phone and shout, “Guys, Pashinyan is free.” Anush and I forget everything and run down AUA stairs. We look at police standing behind the barricades and shout, “Pashinyan is free, people, Pashinyan is free…” We do not feel ashamed. The policemen start packing their weapons. We smile. They smile back. We wave. They wave back. “Dears, it’s the end, Sargsyan has resigned, believe me,” a young policeman says. It’s hard to believe. There are not official news. But we smile. And they smile. We decide to walk down Demirdjian street: Pashinyan has promised to greet people at the Republic Square. Dozens of buses with police drive down that street. They all smile. There are no barricades anymore. From time to time Anush shouts, “Pashinyan is free, Pashinyan is free.” People look at us and smile.

We see our friends on our way. It seems that there are little invisible drops of joy in the air that make everyone smile. We proudly walk to the republic square. People hug the police. I cannot hide my tears. I take out my camera and try to freeze the moment. Everybody keeps talking about Sargsyan’s resignation, but there is not an official announcement. The Internet is not working. We decide to walk to Mashtots park. On our way, the taxi drivers look at us and say, “Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, it’s official, երեխեք ջան.” But still, we do not want to believe. We reach Mashtots park, the internet starts working properly, and we eventually see the official announcement on Facebook. Serzh Sargsyan has resigned,  Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, Serzh Sargsyan has resigned. I keep repeating it as it’s hard to believe. The world freezes at that moment. I cannot stop smiling. I want to stop the time. And we run. We run to be with people; we run to hug everyone on the street, we run to celebrate our victory. We run to say, “Welcome to the world, New Armenia.”

April 23 :They finally smile 

April 15, 2018 | The beginning

Tired after the play rehearsal, me and Anush were enjoying the spring sun and a soft breeze at Mashtots park. We have not talked for months. Something was wrong, and that was the day to understand what was going on in our friendship finally. We were supposed to have a long and tense conversation. And we finally had it. But April 15 was never exceptional for that conversation.

It was that crucial day when we decided to join Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters on French Square. It was the beginning of a journey full of love, hatred,  fear, joy, disappointment and everlasting hope. It was the beginning of a journey full of doubts. It was the day we realized our importance as citizens. It was the day we felt responsible for our country and our future. It was the day we decided to stood up for our rights and fight for our parent’s stolen youth. It was the day we decided to spare no effort for a better Armenia…It was the day we believed.

*All photos were taken by me.

Thoughts on April 17

On Tuesday I witnessed civil actions and vignettes of disobedience that I have never seen before in Armenia. For part of the day I was watching many of these events unfold in different places simultaneously thanks to several online live video feeds broadcast by and Hetq Online was reporting on the events throughout the day, and as usual posted stunning photos by Narek Alexanyan, some of which are reprinted here.

The peaceful actions of civil disobedience were unprecedented for Armenia. For example, students would suddenly decide to block the entire six-lane width of Abovyan Street at the Isahakyan intersection and sit on the ground in a tight row. Elderly pairs would be moving slowly but deliberately up Sayat-Nova streets to watch on, perhaps give a few words of wisdom and encouragement to student protestors. Thousands of people walked toward or right against the police barricade near the foot of Baghramyan Street, and linger there or move on to another impromptu site of protest, that would suddenly be abandoned for another intersection randomly blocked, impeding the flow of traffic once again. They were totally decentralized movements of disruption, always peaceful, and dignified (save for frustrated drivers who found themselves unexpectedly stranded, as I saw for instance on the corner of Sayat-Nova and Abovyan Streets around 3:30 pm, just moments after protestors blocked the intersection).  Then I began walking west to the Place de France, the square on Mashdots and Sayat-Nova, a stone’s throw from the Opera House. The area had been occupied at that point for at least 40 hours, if not more. Suddenly two young guys sharing a seat on a retro BMX-style dirt bike resembling the one my brother rode around when we were kids in Winchester rode into the intersection and announced that the people should mobilize and move directly to Republic Square.

Throughout the day the thousand-strong crowd led by Nigol Pashinyan moved to various locations, occupying the entrances of governmental agencies, like the Prosecutor General’s Office, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for several minutes at a time, before moving on again. When I first started observing what was happening, in all honestly it seemed pointless and absurd, and it stirred memories of movements from the past—from 2013 especially.  But it didn’t take long for me to understand that this effort was indeed an organized, nevertheless decentralized string of protests.

I walked south on Mashdots Street and saw that every intersection starting from Place de France all the way to the Khorenatsi intersection, near the “Pak Shuga,” was blockaded. Understand that this is the most travelled avenue in central Yerevan, one of the main city routes used by hundreds of minibuses, trolleys and, full-size buses every hour. So to see it come to a complete standstill, where only pedestrians traveled, was surreal.

Photo by Christian Garbis
Photo by Christian Garbis

I made a left on Amiryan and walked to the Square to see whether protesters were indeed assembling there. By the time I got there shortly before 4:00 pm the Square was occupied. All six roads that either enter or exit the square were closed, and people were just strolling about. Some, like me, were left standing on a corner, trying to comprehend how these students managed to bring traffic in one of the busiest, vibrant locations of the city to a standstill. At one point some protesters took a break to play impromptu volleyball directly in the middle of the square on the stone-tiled oval-shaped barrier. By 6:00 thousands of people were occupying the square, and more kept pouring in.

Photo by Christian Garbis

And then a couple of hours later they left. By 9:00 there were virtually no signs that anything had happened there. There were also no police, save for the row of young cadets guarding the entrance to the Government Building. It was peaceful, as it always is in the evening. People were strolling around the fountains, as they always do. Some vendors were selling those junky toys with multicolored strobe lights little kids love so much. It was business as usual, although traffic was still light. Republic Square was simply abandoned for another location, another site where traffic and normalcy would suddenly be disrupted, causing momentary chaos and stress for motorists.

As of Wednesday morning I am still trying to process the events. I have seen protests in Yerevan attended by huge crowds time and time again—2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015. But this was different. Most of the organizers and participants were students—18-24 years old. Some even younger were directly involved.

Now I have never been a big fan of Nigol Pashinyan, who’s an MP representing the oppositional Yelk bloc, although I admire his strong will and straightforwardness. But he’s let down people before, quite a few times, actually, by trying to play ball with the authorities. Two years ago he was rebuked and sent home during the “Sasna Dzer” protests. I first encountered him in 2007, when he launched his anti-government “Impeachment” one-man show, followed by the broader “Aylentrank”  (Alternative) movement. Back then he was still the editor for Haykakan Zhamanak daily newspaper. He was on Freedom Square on the steps of the Opera House on a daily basis, screaming incoherently in a shrill voice into a bullhorn, with a few spectators standing around chomping on sunflower seeds, wondering what his beef was. He’s doing the same today, although his message is quite clear and articulate. And he has rallied thousands of protestors who are counting on him to persist.

But this movement is not about him. It’s about Armenia’s youth and their pursuit of justice, and their struggle to live in a free, democratic state, not one governed by an increasingly authoritarian regime. The protestors have vowed to retake Place de France today and Republic Square by day’s end. And, judging from what I personally saw on Tuesday, they will get the job done, irrespective of whether he’s actually present.

All photos by Narek Alexanyan (unless otherwise noted), copyright Hetq Online 2018

Official Statement by Armenian Defense Ministry, April 4

The following is a translation of an official statement made by the Armenian Ministry of Defense on April 4. The translation was done by journalist Maria Titizian. 

The Defense Ministry (MOD) of the Republic of Armenia attaches great importance to the reaction of the international community and their calls to the sides of the conflict. The MOD of Armenia stresses that the Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of the security of the people of NKR. At the same time, as a side that is not involved in the military operations, the MOD of Armenia appreciates that the calls to end the hostilities have been directed to Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh – the two sides involved in the conflict.

Being in agreement with the calls to the sides to end the hostilities, the MOD of Armenia wants to call the attention to the international community of the fact that aside from political statements to restore the ceasefire regime, it is necessary to bring to an agreement and realize concrete means; develop the technical conditions of a ceasefire, implement the removal/separation of the forces and restore the mechanisms for the ceasefire regime.

At the same time, the RA MOD wishes to bring to the attention of the international community that the military operations unleashed by the Azerbaijan side is in violation of the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the charter of the United Nations, the 1976 OSCE Helsinki Final Act and a number of other international legal documents.

During the military operations realized by the Azerbaijani side against the defense forces of Nagorno Karabakh and civilians, there have been numerous acts similar to the tactics used by international terrorist organizations, which according to international humanitarian law, are considered to be military crimes. Those include torture of non-combatants and prisoners of war, including even beheadings, mutilation of corpses, etc. Those acts have been photographed and displayed with the objective of terrorizing people.

The RA MOD announces that the Azerbaijani authorities and all those responsible for the violations of international law and war crimes will be brought to justice, including by the international community.

Is Nagorno-Karabakh Caught in a New War?

Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online
Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online

A new armed struggle to maintain the integrity of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic began in the early hours of April 2. Azerbaijan has admitted that it launched an all out attack long the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, although Baku has subsequently denied that.

Many of us following the events during the last few days have been frustrated by the lack of information from the front lines. Often the same news was reported for eight hours or more on Facebook and Twitter feeds by users based in the region, most notably the supposed ceasefire initiated by Azerbaijan that proved to be disinformation. Official statements from the Nagorno-Karabakh government reveal the number of soldiers dead as well as the amount of destroyed military equipment. Until late April 3 few professional photographs taken along the line of contact were circulating in the press. Amateur as well as some professional video footage taken from a distance was also posted on various news sites.

As of this writing on April 4, this is what we know:

  • Contrary to earlier reports Azerbaijan has demonstrated that it has no intentions to initiate a ceasefire. The Nagorno-Karabakh defense ministry reported that massive shelling along the line of contact is continuing. In northern Karabakh Azeri forces are reportedly retreating and vital strategic positions have been recaptured by the Nagorno-Karabakh military.
  • Azerbaijan is continuing its offensive with “mortar and grenade attacks” all along the frontlines with the southeastern and northeastern points taking the brunt of the assault. Other equipment used in the assault include 152 mm cannons, Grad missiles and tanks.
  • The town of Martakert in the northern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which resides virtually on the line of contact with Azerbaijan, was severely shelled throughout the day on April 2.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh forces have reportedly destroyed a total of 4 drones, two helicopters, 21 tanks (estimated) and multiple armed vehicles. Nagorno-Karabakh has reportedly lost one tank and three military trucks.
  • On April 3 Karabagh officially claimed six wounded, including two children, and four dead civilians, including one child. Hetq Online reported that in Martakert Azeri soldiers killed an elderly couple in their own home and cut off their ears. It is not clear whether that couple was factored in the official number of deaths. Official numbers on April 2 were 18 soldiers killed and 35 wounded, according to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. As of this writing there are no new reports of casualties.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has promised Turkey’s full support of Azerbaijan in the conflict “to the end.”
  • US Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have condemned Azerbaijan’s aggression in official statements. The Organization of American States (OAS) has also condemned Azerbaijan.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is purportedly working on a new plan to cease the hostilities. The Co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group is due to meet today—we can expect a statement from them by the evening or on Tuesday.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of updates.

Let’s be clear: this is a new conflict. This fighting is not a violation of the 1994 ceasefire brokered by Russia; it demands a new legally binding agreement to end the hostilities. And although there have been skirmishes along the line of contact over the last 20 years, with even micro-battles being waged on occasion, there has been relative peace between the Nagorno-Karakakh Republic and Azerbaijan. This is essentially a new war—if we can indeed call it that only three days in. The Azeri offensive should not be seen as a “frozen conflict” suddenly thawed overnight.

I have not seen an official declaration of war from either side. The Nagorno-Karabakh forces have been on the defense by holding the line and reclaiming posts that had been taken by the Azerbaijani army “blitzkrieg,” as it’s been described by the Armenian press, of April 2.

For two days I refrained from writing about these clashes. Although I don’t think I’m alone in having expected a new conflict to erupt, the sudden events of the weekend have certainly been surreal given the relatively peaceful situation of the last 20 years.

Notes on the Centennial

My grandmother Clara with her mother, Haigouhi
My grandmother Clara with her mother, Haigouhi

For several weeks now I’ve been trying to put into words what the centennial of the Armenian Genocide means to me personally, and how I am either directly or indirectly affected by that holocaust. Would I have existed had the Genocide not taken place? Is it possible that my grandparents would have met regardless and given birth to my own parents, who in turn would have met either in Western Armenia or in the United States?

Obviously, there is no way of predicting destiny and it arguably may be a foolish exercise to even ponder the probabilities of outcome. Perhaps I am being naïve in stating that yes, I do believe I would have been born into this world right around the same time 43 years ago. It is extremely likely that both my grandparents on my mother’s side for instance would have wound up in America. My great-grandmother’s sister, Teriz Echmelian, had already ventured to Providence, Rhode Island all by herself, a rebellious act in those days, and so had the uncle of my grandfather—his father’s brother—having settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My great-grandfather Nishan Guetchudian moved back to Yegheki in the Harput province leaving his home and occupation in Connecticut behind in order to marry my great-grandmother Haigouhi—his brother had sent him a photograph of an attractive, prospective spouse. Since he already had a taste of what life was like in America, he’d eventually heed his calling and move his family back with him. So it was inevitable that the two sisters and their families would have been reunited in the New World.

My grandfather Hagop Rousyan (actually spelled “Russian”) had already been orphaned before the Genocide and was living on the streets, surviving on a diet of grass and weeds and toiling in odd jobs. Nevertheless, he was certainly impacted directly by the after-effects of genocide since it was impossible for him to return to his village of Sousoury, which incidentally was situated next door to Yegheki. But since his uncle had already found his way to New England, I presume he most certainly would have followed.

My grandparents on my father’s side met in Aleppo, and there was about a 14-year age gap between them. Garabed Adanalian was born there, while my grandmother Luciné Mahakian and her entire family fled Urfa. Meanwhile, Aleppo was an ancient, attractive cosmopolitan city with opportunities abound, and there was certainly an Armenian community already flourishing there since the 11th century. In all likelihood, had there not been a genocide they probably would have wed since marriages were arranged in most instances.

My father expressed his conviction to me while growing up that the Middle East, meaning the chiefly Arab countries, were simply a depot for Armenians as they had no place living there long-term due to the cultural and religious imbalance. Thus, I am certain that, one way or another, he would have found his way to the Boston area since he had contacts already residing there and was on a quest for freedom from a world with which he could never identify.

Since I do believe that the concept of destiny is defensible, I am able to separate the events of 100 years ago from my identity as an Armenian and, more importantly, as human being. Having said that, my stance on destiny does not obstruct my obligation to contend with the past and somehow fathom the horrors my grandparents were made to endure. I’ve had to confront my people’s past for decades, at various times in intense scrutiny. Only recently have I begun to probe the details of the plight of my maternal grandmother, Clara Movsesian Russian, who turned 100 years old in October and still resides in her home of 70 years in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, I have never found myself obsessed with genocide and the need for politicians and presidents to acknowledge the holocaust of the Armenians as genocide. But each year I anticipate that the US President will officially spurn the intimidation of the Turkish government and its billion-dollar industry of denial. Like thousands of other Armenian-Americans, I can’t wait for the annual written statement on the occasion of April 24th to be released by the Oval Office, only to be disappointed year after year. But I never lose hope that perhaps the following year the president will finally use the “G-word.”

But what would change if he did? When will the Turkish government succumb to its perceived legitimacy of denial and subsequently bring the Armenian Genocide to an end once and for all? Would reparations eventually follow? I’ve never been able to guess the outcome. Perhaps the Armenian Genocide will cease to matter to the world in 2016, and Armenian-Americans may begin to lose hope that their president will ever properly acknowledge it. I simply don’t know what to think.

Unmistakably, the visit of the Kardashians to Armenia in April followed by the Pope’s public acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide generated a worldwide fervor. The topic of the Armenian Genocide is being used as a direct way to spur business for media outlets.  Everyone is talking about the Genocide, it has never received such attention on a mass scale since awareness was first spread about it 50 years ago. The magnitude of the worldwide attention, fueled  by the numerous reports appearing in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Times and myriad other widely read publications with millions of followers, not to mention the miraculous social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, is unequivocal. The buzz that has been created is staggering, even overwhelming.

It’s important that we separate the glamour, the Botox, the protruding bosoms and behinds, the haughty Hollywood lifestyle from the humanity of the Kardashians. Their visit was met with cynical remarks in social media. Some of my friends have been critical, believing that their visit has only cheapened or undermined the Armenian cause with all the ruckus. I cannot disagree more. They are human beings. They are connecting with their roots. They didn’t have to travel to Armenia for the centennial; they could have stayed home. They certainly didn’t need the publicity. And the Armenians have not lost anything. They instead should be proud that awareness of the Genocide and the Armenian nation for that matter has been placed under the spotlight. Average Americans now know where Armenia is located on the map, and they are now aware of the inferno in which the first Christian nation was engulfed 100 years ago. That’s something to celebrate ardently.