Armenians await change of government after peaceful revolt
As they do each year, thousands of Armenians walked through the capital on Tuesday to commemorate the massacre of their people over a century ago, though this time was different: The crowds were triumphantly led by an opposition leader who a day earlier had managed to push Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan out of office.
Clutching flowers and wrapped in the tricolor Armenian flag, people of all ages took to the streets to remember the 1915 killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, in what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century. They walked solemnly but frequently erupted into applause and cries of joy over their victory, which came after nearly two weeks of peaceful protests led by a former journalist turned fiery opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan.
His “revolution,” Pashinyan told crowds Tuesday, clad in his now-trademark camouflage T-shirt and sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, “cannot be left unfinished.”
The nearly two weeks of protests focused on what demonstrators called Sargsyan’s authoritarian grip on power, as well as the widespread corruption that benefited him and others in a ruling elite who have been backed by Russia for decades.
Tiny, landlocked Armenia relies heavily on former imperial master Russia — which also maintains two military bases in the country — for economic relief and ostensibly keeping a simmering conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan at bay. Pashinyan rejects suggestions he had consulted with Russia, telling reporters on Tuesday, “There is no geopolitical context in our movement, in our revolution. It is a pure, interior Armenian process.”
Russia offered tepid comments on the events — rare for the Kremlin when one of its neighboring countries engages in pro-democracy activities.
“The situation is not heading toward destabilization. We are satisfied with that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday, adding that the Armenian tumult should not be compared to Ukraine’s pro-Western uprisings.“This should in no way be looked at as an anti-Russian upheaval,” lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov said Monday on Russian state television.
Pashinyan insists he wants Armenia to have friendly relations with Europe, the United States, Russia and Iran, which it borders to the south.
“This is a wise move on his part,” said Hayk Martirosyan, a political analyst and member of the opposition. “Why would he want to antagonize Russians in this transition period? We don’t need to create enemies.”