Tag Archives: barevolution

Clarification: the need for Armenian Activism

I want to add some explanation to my previous post. I did not mean to say—and will never say—that the popular protest is over and that the situation is hopeless. What I meant to say is that the period of large popular rallies is past us. If the rallies were double (or even larger) the size they were, maybe rallies would have been effective, but that is simply speculation. What needs to happen is the hard work of institutionalizing the spirit of the opposition. Pre-Parliament is a great example of this, as is the Barev Foundation. I wish Raffi could have started building these institutions weeks (months) ago, instead of saying “I’ll announce my plan next rally.”

These institutions can form the bedrock for future change. These popular institutions can provide both the manpower and the skillset to do something big. Want to run for mayor in Yerevan? Fine, tap into this network to get hundreds of volunteers to pass out leaflets or go canvassing. Want to stop a polluting mining operation? Great, brainstorm with the intellectuals and elites to develop a strategy to force them to change their operations. Raffi was able to show that there are tens of thousands that will support and contribute to a strategy of change. Unfortunately, he never developed that strategy.

Developing the long-term strategy is hard but absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, a long-term strategy needs hope and commitment. Two things that too many hayastanci lack. Instead, too many of them are waiting for a leader to solve the country’s problems, while also waiting for a green card.

One great example from America’s history is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP’s) strategy to combat racial segregation in education. Racial segregation in education was legal in the US and the NAACP was able to make it formally illegal in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. But, this case was only the latest in a long chain of victories.  The NAACP knew that with a prejudicial Supreme Court, there was no hope to try for a grand victory, so they started with the smallest and least objectionable issue they could find. They argued that Missouri was violating black students’ rights by not having a single law school for blacks within its borders, and they won. They then argued that black law students deserved access to equally good law libraries and law professors, and they won. The NAACP correctly counted on the Supreme Court being more interested in the study of law than on perpetuating segregation. Finally, the NAACP could go after its big goal of general educational segregation in Brown v. Board and the Supreme Court had to rule in its favor because of the precedents of equality it had created for itself. This victory didn’t completely solve America’s racial segregation problem, but it was a huge step in the right direction.

Barevolution as a popular movement signified by rallies is over; barevolution as a demand for change is doing just fine.

The question for Armenians is what is your strategy to improve the country?

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Blood in the water and the End of the Barevolution

It’s been almost a week since the Inaugurations and protests of April 9—and my last blog post, apologies. The short of it is that, if the lack of tweets is any indication, the barevolution is next to dead as a movement.

After the significant criticism Raffi got from his own camp regarding the events of the 9th, he gave a long response on facebook. The core of his defense is that he wouldn’t engage in actions that could lead to bloodshed, and that he was forced to be “flexible” because of the people. The first argument is defensible while the latter is not. In any coalition, you’ll always have differing views; the point of the leader is to select a path that the people support and can follow. Otherwise, the coalition starts to break down at the critical moment. The brutal weather did make it hard to communicate his plan, but there is no reason he couldn’t have communicated his steps earlier. Overall, Raffi was stuck between a rock and hard place, but the people expect a leader to be able to navigate choppy waters.

CivilNet has a video that summarizes the rally of the 12th. Armen Martirosyan, Yerevan mayoral candidate and arrestee on the 9th, has a nice quote:

“[A] leader is not hiding behind black walls … but standing in front of the people with his  family … leading the way. A leader like him might make mistakes, he might fall back for a second, but a leader like him never falls down. A leader like him always stands tall and leads us to victory.”

Unfortunately, Raffi didn’t provide any concrete plan to lead the people in the upcoming weeks and months and primarily echoed previous statements. He told people to come next week to another rally, the norm at his events.

Without any stated plan, Raffi’s coalition is breaking apart. The youth activist crowd is willing to fight “leaderless.” Pre-Parliament is starting to organize its own rallies. ARF-D backpedals from its support of the movement. The ANC criticizes Raffi’s actions and handling of the day and dismisses all of his rallies as “never pos[ing] a serious threat” (to the Republican’s delight). Everyone can sense the blood in the water, and there are plenty of sharks in the opposition that would love to knock Raffi down a notch or two for their own personal benefit. With ANC’s recent reorganization, they have a good chance to steal the momentum away from Raffi/Heritage/Barev Yerevan.

One group that deserves special mention in regards to the events of the 9th is the police and how surprisingly well they acted. There are activists that criticize the police for what they did. Just looking at some of the videos from the day demonstrates the aggression the police showed, at the height of the conflict. Just a short time after the conflict, the Armenian Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan walked with Raffi to the Genocide Memorial and even went as far as praising Raffi and calling him a “peaceful person.” Maybe it’s because of that praise that the authorities were openly annoyed at the “leniency” the police showed the protestors. The Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan did ask for explanation from the police for their actions, but the explanation the police gave is actually fairly reasonable, for a police department and especially for a post-soviet police department. [Updated:] The Ombudsman points out concerns but seems generally supportive of the police’s actions.

Of course, it’s easy to be upstanding when you have plain-clothes cops ready to rough people up, as this CivilNet video alleges. The video is heavily edited but appears to show aggressive members in the crowd shoving protestors with impunity, while the cops do nothing. When called out about it, Yerevan’s police chief says in the video that they would never have cops in civilian clothes and to bring a written complaint to his desk the next morning. Unfortunately for him, Gasparyan decided that he needs a fall guy and dismissed  Yerevan’s chief of police yesterday evening.

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The Makings of either a New Government or a New Armenia

If Raffi is going to be a proper president, he needs to establish his new cabinet. Impressively, this will involve generating lists of hundreds of possible names and letting the public choose. While the opposition laughs at the idea, Raffi is actually going back to the style of leading a popular movement rather than an individual protest. The point of this new government is to encourage public participation, develop young leaders, and destroy the fear people associate with the government.

His new government can’t stand alone; it needs popular support. Thus, a signature gathering campaign has begun, asking:

 “I, a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, welcome the newly elected president Raffi Hovannisian’s struggle, for ratification of the Armenian people’s victory and our national revival. I am ready to fully support Raffi Hovannisian in his and our sacred struggle and participate in new Armenia’s inauguration scheduled for April 9.”

In a low-trust country like Armenia, this is a bold move. People fear the press police that record the faces of everyone at the crowds, now the people are being asked to give their names. But, the fear is not stopping people from signing the petition. The people are also being asked for donations for the Barev Democratic Development Fund, which will create websites and further the message of the movement.

The Pre-parliament group has also been busy hosting a discussion on Armenia’s foreign policy. Their public discussions are invaluable in not just developing yet another think tank but a space for public debate and engagement.

This type of grassroots public activity is exactly what Raffi needs to promote. In the battle of him versus the government, he can’t win. In the battle of the people versus the government, the people can’t lose.

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March 1 Recap: Quieter than Expected

Today is 1 March, and the day was probably quieter than anyone expected. Hovannisian held his “open press conference” at noon at Freedom Square where he answered the questions of anyone who wanted to come up to the mic. During that time, he criticized foreign powers, criticized the government for using the pretext of national security to scare people and delegitimize the protests, and vowed that no Armenian’s blood will be spilled on Armenian land. Then he led a march to Myasnikyan square and to a church to pray for the victims of 1 March 2008. It would have been insane for the government to repeat the actions of 2008, and one commentator said that Sargsyan knew what Kocharyan was planning five years ago and had learned from his predecessor’s mistake. The rally tomorrow is expected to be much bigger, as people don’t need to cut out from work to attend.

As mentioned before, the ANC cancelled its event and told its supporters to join with Hovannisian’s event. Interesting, and significantly, Levon Ter-Petrossian did not attend the event. Hovannisian has made a conscious choice to not associate himself with the ANC and, especially, all the baggage that comes with Levon Ter-Petrossian. While there are some hardcore Levonites, most Armenians think negatively of him and remember the corruption and poverty that occurred during his presidency.

One Republican commentator noted that this five-year anniversary brings a sense of “closure” to the killings. While he acknowledges the lack of any legal restitution, he acknowledges a sense of political closure. A Rule of Law MP (aligned with the Republicans) views the matter as completely closed. There is still the issue about the textbook that is heavily against the protestors. The parents of the victims said they were going to sue the textbook, but I can’t find any updates on a possible suit.

Yesterday, the comedian/performer (and overall good guy) Vardan Petrosyan spoke to the crowd. He was speaking as a normal person, and as a normal person he was proud that a movement had begun that is making Armenians shake off their indifference. Videos and pictures of yesterday are available all over.

Heritage has drawn a line and said that they will not decrease the pressure for government positions, not wanting to “cooperate with thieves.” ARF-D also views itself as part of the “new opposition” with Heritage.

Assorted links

  • RFE/RL has a longer analysis of the BAREVolution.
  • Sara Anjargolian has a great montage of photos from Raffi’s recent trip to the regions.
  • People are spreading guides and pamphlets for non-violent civil disobedience on facebook. It’ll be interesting to see how this movement organically develops, especially if Raffi does something to remove himself from it.

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Hopefully the Last Monolithic Post on the Presidential Election

I just got internet at home, so my posting should be a little more regular from now on. This also means I won’t ever need to have a ginormous post like this one again.

Student Protests

Today was the third day of the students protesting, and it’s getting tough for them. School administrators, other students and the police have aligned against the protesters and are stopping them from spreading their message at the school. Hetq’s reporter overhears some of the police criticizing the protestors as not true Armenians and having “alien” values. In an even stronger reminder of last year’s pro-diversity march, the reporter notes that the protestors are a mix of genders while the opposing students are all male. (more photos)

One political commenter supports the general protests but not the student protests because the student protests have nothing “to do with education.” Political education and engagement may not be taught in textbooks, but it’s hard to say those aren’t connected with education.

I work in the old Yerevan State University black building, and yesterday I saw a number of orange sheets of paper with “Բարև” (“Hello”) written on them, referring to the #barevolution theme. They were all gone by this morning.

Other Protests

Yesterday, Hovannisian went out to the regions to do another round of protests while giving the yerevantci a rest. Amusingly, the police blocked the road as the government regularly asks them to do to stop people from assembling. The problem is that they blocked the road to Yerevan, not from it. The government is not used to an opponent that willingly leaves the center of power because they don’t think of regions as a source of power except during an election.

Yesterday, people in Yerevan protested in front of the embassies of countries that have congratulated the President.

The protest in front of the Glendale consulate office gathered around 100 residents. The organizer said that the protest will be repeated every Sunday until Sargsyan gives up power.

Are you Down with the System? (terrible pun, I know)

One amusing episode of this election conflict is Serj Tankian’s (from System of a Down) open letter exchange with Serzh Sargsyan. Yesterday, Serj wrote Serzh a letter “congratulating” him on his victory. My favorite line: “That’s quite funny isn’t it? That you, the President of Armenia are not really sure, deep inside, whether you are the true chosen leader of your people or not.”

Amazingly, Serzh responded later that day! Here is the President who has kept quiet during all of these protests officially write a response to a US rock star. While the letter’s terrible English is laughable, the real significance is that the President was willing to communicate and explain himself with a Diasporan but not to his own people.

Serj wrote a second letter where he points out that the President didn’t answer any of his questions. Amusingly and confusingly, one of Sargsyan’s spokespeople said that Serzh “agrees with Tankian on the overwhelming majority of the questions raised.”

What Comes Next

Tomorrow, Raffi gets back into Yerevan and will be hosting another rally. The bigger news is the rally on March 1st, the anniversary of the use of force against protesters after the last election that resulted in (officially) ten deaths. I’ve heard from people with family in the military that the real number is around 30, but I obviously can’t prove that. The ANC typically has a March 1 rally, but as Heritage got the permit first, ANC is cancelling its protest and instead telling people to join with Raffi at Myasnikyan square.

The National Assembly will discuss the “consequences of this post-election situation and put forward proposals to ease this tension.” Who knows what that means and what the Republicans (who have a majority in the National Assembly) will allow or push through.

Assorted links (Enjoy!)

  • Mayors who “failed” the Republican party by having Raffi win in their areas are resigning. The obvious rumor is that they’re being forced out. Because of the trend of resignations only in areas where Sargsyan lost, there’s rumors that the Sargsyan is rejecting one mayor’s resignation to break the trend of resigning mayors. (Armavir is happy their mayor resigned, wishing it happened sooner.). Today, Sargsyan rejected the resignation, putting him back in power, to the annoyance of many of the citizens.
  • Prosperous Armenia’s position is interesting. Their vague statement  shows that they don’t want to join the opposition, but then aren’t going to blindly support the government. Perhaps Prosperous will try to use the opposition as a bargaining chip to extract more power from the government? Even if they might slightly prefer the opposition to the Republicans, they might be worried about becoming the de facto 3rd party rather than the de facto 2nd party in Armenian politics. “Hey look, we’re still relevant!”
  • The Human Rights Defender is pushing the police to releasing the information regarding the electoral fraud claims they rejected.
  • Stunningly, the police are charging someone with election fraud. It’s only the head of a village and not anyone of importance, but something is better than nothing (remembering that the police literally investigated and charged no one with any type of electoral fraud in last year’s parliamentary election).
  • Amusingly, Azerbaijan is highly critical of Turkey congratulating the President for his reelection.
  • A great in-depth article on the difference between Raffi’s goals and the popular movement.
  • Ianyan magazine has two great articles about the election.
  • 19 NGOs say the election “had no precedent[] in terms of public distrust” and demand a publication of the signed voter list. Considering that the Constitutional Court rejected this demand last year, it’s not likely anything is going to happen this time.
  • Raffi met with the Russian ambassador yesterday. While Raffi is often painted as a solidly pro-west candidate, there are a number of factors that make that not quite so, which I hope to get to in another blog post.

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