How young people transformed Armenia - the peaceful way

Written by Sona Mirzoyan.* 

April 23, 2018 marked a magnificent milestone in the history of Armenia and perhaps in the history of the post-Soviet countries. After 10 days of peaceful protests demanding the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan from his newly assumed post of Prime Minister, he resigned, wishing peace and prosperity to the Armenian nation. Two weeks later, the Opposition Leader, former Journalist and MP Nikol Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister of Armenia.

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The Republic Square during the night protests, April 2018 (PAN Media photo)

It is remarkable how a small landlocked country in the Caucasus that has survived the dreadful events of the Genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Empire and fought a war over the Artsakh (Nagorino-Karabakh) conflict demonstrated to the world the possibility of bringing an unprecedented change; a change that resulted in the transition of power from the ruling corrupt government to the ‘Demos’ (the People) without a single bullet fired.

In 2015, changes to the Constitution were passed by a national referendum declaring Armenia a parliamentary republic and boosting the Prime Minister’s authority. Back then, Serzh Sargsyan promised not to run for the office after the end of his second five-year term of presidency in 2018 but he did so anyway, despite the growing discontent of many people. Obviously, the citizens of Armenia were not happy with that and it was the right time to step up and act.

The movement started out with a march of a small group of people led by Nikol Pashinyan from Gyumri, the 2nd largest city in Armenia and was transformed into country-wide peaceful civil disobedience and strikes by thousands of Armenians against the ruling government. The most active participants, who were fighting for their rights and freedom, were the Youth in their 20s, the so-called ‘Independence Generation’ born in ‘dark’ years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While covering the events in Armenia, the international media tried to draw an analogy with other protest movements in the former Soviet states such as the Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution and Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution. Yet, the Armenian “Velvet Revolution” is different as the protests in Armenia were not organized over any foreign or international agenda: the roots of the crisis were purely domestic. Tens of thousands Armenians, mainly the youth, poured into streets chanting "Take a Step, Reject Serzh".

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Thousands of Armenians celebrating their victory in the Republic Square

May 8 marked another memorable date in Armenian history when Nikol Pashinyan was elected the Prime Minister of Armenia as the ‘people’s candidate’. Thousands of Armenians gathered at the Republic Square wearing t-shirts with Pashinyan’s portrait printed on them and the iconic ‘Duxov’ hats that translates from Armenian as “Be Courageous and Strong”.

The Velvet Revolution was a crucial shift within Armenian nation and gave rise to the development of a functioning civil society, and most of the credits to be given to the younger generation who have been involved in civic activism in recent years. From the very beginning, the main message was to follow the path of ‘non-violent and peaceful public disobedience’. Policemen, who by duty had to keep public order, were treated with respect and were declared by protesters as their brothers and fellows.

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16th Prime Minister of Armenia, Mr. Nikol Pashinyan

Undoubtedly, there is a thorny path ahead, yet there are a lot of challenges that need to be addressed and overcome. It will take great perseverance and hard work to destroy the deeply entrenched system and build inclusive political and economic institutions.

The ‘revolution of love and tolerance’ has shed a light upon the nation signaling its transformation towards a more democratic, forward-looking, innovative and progressive state. Indeed, this is a new page for the small, yet utterly courageous Armenia where people are now certain that their power and ability to unite and fight for their rights, self-respect and freedom can never again be taken away from them.

*Sona Mirzoyan is a OYW Ambassador from Armenia. She is the Founder and CEO of SonaSola LLC and is currently pursuing her 3rd Masters Degree in Oxford, UK majoring in Business Management and Entrepreneurship. Sona is passionate about bringing about a positive social change and making the world a better place. Connect with Sona Mirzoyan via Email [email protected] or Facebook.