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Armenia’s Velvet Revolution: Nikol Pashinyan is trying to harness the streets to vault him into the seat of power.
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Journalist-turned-politician Nikol Pashinyan is now at the center of his own nation-shaking story — with an ending that’s far from certain. A longtime newspaperman, agitator and member of Armenia’s National Assembly, Pashinyan led mass demonstrations in the capital city of Yerevan in recent weeks responding to an attempted power grab by Serzh Sargsyan. The country’s president for a decade, Sargsyan sidestepped Armenia’s term limits by moving from the presidency to the prime minister’s post.
Pashinyan, leader of the Yelk liberal political party alliance, encouraged civil disobedience to protest the attempt of the pro–Vladimir Putin prime minister to prolong his rule. Sargsyan warned Pashinyan that he “had not learned” from March 2008, when eight demonstrators were killed during a peaceful protest.
Deployed to quell the swelling crowds, riot police proceeded to arrest hundreds of marchers — including Pashinyan. The protesters were undeterred yet peaceful, earning the “Velvet Revolution” moniker, after the bloodless revolution in the former Czechoslovakia. Following his release, Pashinyan joined the ever-expanding crowds taking to the streets of Yerevan. Then, on the 11th day of protests, Sargsyan resigned. “The struggle in the streets is against my tenure. I’m fulfilling your demand,” Sargsyan said in a statement. “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I got it wrong.”
But Pashinyan’s standing in the streets does not automatically translate into the National Assembly. While the pro-Moscow ruling Republican Party did not put forward a candidate for prime minister, Pashinyan still fell a few votes short of earning a majority vote in the assembly Tuesday — and he proceeded to call for more demonstrations. The law requires the assembly reconvene next week and try again to choose a prime minister.
When Sargsyan stepped down, the news of the changing of the guard of the small country in the Caucasus was met with a cacophony of car horns, drones of vuvuzelas and chants of “Hayastan! Hayastan!” — the local name for Armenia. “Do you hear all of this?” Hrach Sargsyan, a student and protester who is no relation to the former president, exclaimed in a frenetic whirl of citizens on a sidewalk in Yerevan. “This is the sound of revolution.”