It appears that the opposition camp, at least part of it, is in this for the long haul. Raffi Hovannisian will keep holding rallies until he has enough public support to take the protests to another level. Thousands of people were present tonight. There must have been a dozen or so speakers before Raffi approached the microphone to remind people why they are there, and that their country belongs to them. There is still no concrete plan of action outlined, and that’s now obviously intentional.
Tomorrow at noon he will give a press conference in Liberty Square. Afterwards he and the crowd will march in a vigil to the site where the chaos unfolded on March 1, 2008, near the Myasnikian Statue, across from what is now known as Russian Square. Leven Ter-Petrosyan’s followers are also going to converge on that same spot, so it will be interesting to see if there is some kind of public interaction between Hovannisian and the Armenian National Congress camp. Then on Saturday, there will be another rally at 5 pm. Since it is a Saturday there potentially will be even more people in attendance.
Naturally, the more people that wake up and realize something serious is going on, the sooner the regime can change. Raffi has to keep the momentum going. And again, the people need to decide whether they want change to happen, or continue with the status quo. But from the looks of things, most people still need convincing that it can be done. If only they remember that in their collective strength they can retake control of their country and its future.
Photos by Anush Khachatryan
My wife, baby and I just returned from Mashdots park where we learned that the controversial kiosks that were partially erected and were the source of contention for about two months now will apparently be dismantled. Earlier in the day President Serge Sarkisian went to the park with Yerevan Mayor Daron Markarian. After surveying the scene he ordered Markarian to have the structures torn down. This is a huge victory for civil society in Armenia. Kudos to all the protesters who day after day stood up for what they believed in and for the rights of all Armenian citizens.
But isn’t there more to it? The National Assembly elections are right around the corner and the President’s Republicans need all the legitimate votes that they can get. Plus it’s excellent PR for the president since the city is filled with elections observers and essentially the eyes of all democratic nations are on Armenia now. Not to mention that the standoff had become a huge embarrassment for the Armenian government. On April 29 seven people were detained by police after a melee ensued over some of the protesters’ desire to pitch a tent on the park, the highlights of which have been posted on YouTube by various sources. This decision also signals a rift between the president and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian who was adamant about leaving the structures there, promising that they would be removed in three years time, which of course means that they would have remained indefinitely. The refusal to back off also became a “matter of principle,” meaning the PM wasn’t about to let a bunch of kids tell him what to do. Regardless, had there been no protests the kiosks would have been operational and there would not have been any need for any official to demand that they be removed.
The victory of the Save Mashdots Park movement is yet further proof that if you persist long enough, you can change things in Armenia. The problem is that there are too many pessimists here in society setting a defeatist tone, and most don’t even attempt to change anything they disagree with thinking it is futile to lift a finger against the establishment. The complaint that “you can’t do it” (or ches gara as some defiantly say here) is sounding more and more like a pathetic joke.
Now, what’s next on the agenda?
These are some photos from this afternoon’s protest at Mashdots Park in Yerevan. The area was chaotic — on the far end of the park there was a backhoe digging up the sidewalk, making a tremendous amount of noise and polluting the air with exhaust fumes and dust. Today a group of about 10 people wearing yellow hard-hats, tools in hand, decided to show up in the hopes of dismantling the rows of kiosks. There were dozens of police on hand to face the peaceful protesters, even some in full riot gear which I thought was over the top. A news site called Asparez was streaming video of the protest live.
I couldn’t help thinking how absurd this whole affair is. The Yerevan municipality decided to contradict its very own law that it put into force last year banning these kiosks from existing on sidewalks in the first place. Then these activists keep returning day after day hoping to somehow take the park back on behalf of the public. In the meantime, none of the political parties are taking advantage of the opportunity to win votes in the coming parliamentary elections by lending their support. The confrontations with the police are a bit pointless because they’re just doing their jobs — defending the position of the authorities. The protesters should realistically be taking up their beef with the city mayor and the Prime Minister, both of whom continue to be inconspicuously absent at each of these events. If you want to legitimately address the concerns of your citizens, go talk to them in person, not in press conferences or through police captains. Apparently, they have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon.
I know one thing — so long as the protests keep moving forward and continue gaining support from fringe groups like these hard-hat wearing dudes, the authorities will have no choice but to cave. It’s just a matter of time.
Here’s a photo of my revolutionary family who are there almost every day — mom and baby, courtesy of News.am.
This is what it has come to — protesters at a round-the-clock sit-in demonstrating against the authorities’ decision to turn one of the last remaining public parks in downtown Yerevan into a marketplace. These were taken only 90 minutes ago by my intrepid wife, Anushik. This is the kind of unity that’s needed on a nationwide level; that’s how changes are made, not by complaining or running away. It has to start somewhere…
The police released Ani Gevorgian along with her brother Sarkis on Thursday afternoon on the grounds that they don’t leave Yerevan until a “final decision on the case” has been made. Apparently they are still potentially looking at jail time–up to five years.
Video taken by the police apparently shows Ani knocking off the hat of a police officer, thus the accusation of assault. Again, no one can say what he exactly said to her, but it’s obvious it was harmful enough to make her irate.
Armenians get emotional fairly quickly and can start arguing 10 seconds into a conversation without a second thought. They can also be antagonistic and downright rude in their verbal approach to situations, which judging from what I saw in the posted video was certainly the case in these forced evictions from Liberty Square and the arrests made by the police. Now, assuming protesters and even innocent bystanders refrained from arguing with the cops and simply walked away, would anything have changed, in other words would some people have been detained regardless? According to an account told by a woman that was cited in a previous post, the answer is no. That is, unless the police knew who her son was and was believed to have had some kind of role to play in the oppositional protests. There has to be a good (not necessarily justifiable) reason why he was beaten and taken away, according to the woman’s description of the events.
No one can say because the police haven’t made any public statements regarding the specific reasons for the arrest of each person there. And even if they do speak up, their reasons will most likely be inaccurate or totally fabricated, since this is a common practice.
I still think that more protesters need to get arrested in order to wake up the general public from its apathetic slumber. Simultaneously, the opposition parties have to get their act together and start figuring out what they want to do next, aside from calling early elections. Right now, there seems to be only malcontent and disorganization among the opposition, and until they put their houses in order, nothing can change. Assuming, of course, the majority of Armenian citizens really want “change”…