Lessons from Armenia: power and people

Last April a relatively small European country – Armenia delivered a great lesson for all developing democracies how to stand up for its values. Citizens of this ex-soviet republic did not want to be fooled again and all united around one opposition leader – Nikol Pashinyan. This happened after the former president – Serzh Sargsyan promised its electorate that after the Constitution is changed (turning the presidential republic into the parliamentary) he would not become the Prime-Minister of the country. Such “Putin`s trick” could be possible, if the internal social and economic situation was not that unhealthy. Monopolies in certain sectors were created by the network of the president Sargsyan and was somewhat the result of his ruling. People of Armenia used their biggest power – their voices – to change the system. This movement was named as “Velvet Revolution” and it worked out well. Here are the reasons why.

Creative protests

Almost 10 years ago people of Iceland achieved their goals (resignation of the government due to the financial crisis in the country) by means of a peaceful demonstration. This was rather an exception. It is a common believe that any revolution equals to casualties, destruction and even a war. Until April 2018, the republic of Armenia experienced the same, but not this time. Civil disobedience – was the solution. Cars were moving slowly around the city and people started crossing the roads with big groups of 60-80 people, this all resulted into one big traffic jam. What was done cannot be classified as a crime or an administrative offence; and when the streets were permanently closed during the day time, people danced, even worked while sitting on the ground. At the same time emergency cars had no problem with crossing the roads. Solidarity of these united  people, emerged into a such a big power that even the head of state by that time did not have a courage to order police forces to attack. There were attempts to do so, thousands policemen of special task forces were lined up and ready to fight, however after the first attempt of provocation the number of people doubled, then tripled and then policemen became an obvious minority. Demonstration in several cities started emerging around the country: almost half million people took the streets. This marked the end of the regime. Newly appointed Prime-Minister Serj Sargsyan resigned.

Armenians pragmatically used international experience

G.Ayvazyan.Image
Nikol Pashinyan delivers a speech during the events in Sardarapat celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia. Photo by: PAN Photo / RA Govt. Press Office / Tigran Mehrabyan

The Republic of Armenia borders 4 countries and two borders are closed (due to political tension with Turkey and Azerbaijan). Without a direct access to the sea ports, with closed borders and a small-scaled economy, this republic became the tech hub in the region and managed to keep the political balance between the East and the West, Europe and Russia. Armenia of today is a place where the international experience is valued as its most and where millions of Armenians from the diaspora contribute their ideas to the well-being of this country. A big majority of Armenians never visited western Europe, however during these protests the famous Icelandic chant and the Catalan way of protests (knocking the cooking pots to make some noise) became wide-spread. Moreover, on the last days of demonstrations more people performed the Icelandic chant bigger than it was ever performed in Iceland itself.

It was just on time

Being in a physical isolation from the world, Armenia by far has one of the most advanced communication services. The leading Tech sector of the economy dictates this rule. Wide-spread coverage of fast internet and strong connection of Armenians with the rest of the world via its vast diaspora allowed these citizens hear, learn and be injected with the ideas of freedom and free spirit. Even though in the recent years the economy of Armenia did recover from the economic crisis, Armenians were still not happy with this growth, because the system of oligarchy is not a sustainable system and cannot inspire a nation of freedom fighters.  People had enough and this Velvet revolution was just on time.

Security concerns

There is a scepticism among elder generation which says that due to the specifics of the region and local culture it is hard to get rid of the past system. Luckily the driving force of the revolution was the younger generation, which does acknowledge the statement above, but claims that the change of the mentality has already occurred. Newly elected Prime-Minister NIkol Pashinyan clearly understood that firstly he shall serve as an example for youngsters, who would get inspired by his actions. This strategy worked out. Finally, after 20 years, people in Armenia started trusting its leader. Winning elections is a symbolic achievement, while being recognized by the majority of people in Armenia and outside – is the real leadership.

Many critics underline, that the unsolved issue of Artsakh Republic (formerly known as Nagorno- Karabakh Republic) can be very dangerous in terms of current political instability in Armenia. While this is a known fact, it shall still be noted that neither Russia, nor the West would like to lose Armenia as a strategic partner in the region.

In the course of the past 25 years Armenia recommended itself as a stable partner. Even after the failed trade agreement negotiations with the EU, Armenia got back last year and finalized this trade deal. Even after numerous incidents with the Russian military base in Armenia and the Russian support of Azerbaijan during the 4-days war in 2016, Armenians still did not step back from the partnership with Russia. Without natural resources, but with a strategic geographical position, Armenia managed to become a stronghold for countries like China and Iran, enabling them to negotiate with Europe and Russia or even become an entry point for the goods. Armenia managed to get a special free trade zone in the border with Iran, which enabled its southern partner to access the whole market of the Eurasian Economic Union. Having said that, it is important also for the parties involved not to escalate the situation in the region. Despite the political turmoil in Armenia, the national pride after this successful revolution is very high and neither new war with Azerbaijan, nor political intrigues will work out. The “Ukrainian scenario” – the one which all sceptics were scaring Armenians – will not work in this case, because Armenia is a monoethnic country and contrary to Ukraine the revolution was bloodless.

While celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1st Armenian republic, the current government will have a great support of the general public and this means a better standpoint in the international arena while negotiating with partners. This a unique comfort that the previous two governments did not have due to their questionable legitimacy. This would also comfort the western partners who tend to respect more legitimate governments, rather than dictatorship-like regimes, such as Azerbaijan.

Looking through the geopolitical prism, it also becomes apparent that the southern border of Armenia is the the outmost line of stability in the region, since further to the south there are countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Israel where the world witnesses either a political instability, conflicts or wars. Having said that, it seems unlikely that any of the leading world powers would like to destroy this quasi-established peace in the southern Caucasus, because it is more convenient to influence the Middle Eastern (which is rich with natural resources) while the political situation in the neighbouring countries is more predictable. In essence it is one of the reasons, why Azerbaijani regime is still considered to be “compliant” with the definition of democracy, while independent NGOs are increasingly reporting on the Human Rights violations.

It is still early to conclude to which extend the Velvet Revolution succeeded, however the lesson of this spring from Armenia is that a bloodless revolution is possible when the citizens are united and when the external factors at least do not cut the ways to success.

 

Gayk Ayvazyan for ApricotLawyer.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
GAYK AYVAZYAN LL.M. – IS AN INTERNATIONAL LAWYER, A GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM (THE NETHERLANDS) IN “INTERNAL TRADE AND INVESTMENT LAW”. CURRENTLY WORKS AS A CORPORATE LAWYER. HIS MAIN FIELDS OF INTERESTS ARE POLITICS, INTERNATIONAL LAW AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE.

 

 

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