Tag Archives: protest

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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So what the hell happened today!?

I just got home from a long day of frustrated protesting. There was so much activity today and action, but the momentum wasn’t retained. The conclusion is bittersweet in that so many people seem committed to change, but so little came of it. Here is my best to give a recap of the events of today.

10:30am: A march of people from Yerevan’s regions gets hassled by the police.

10:45am: The student protest begins with students marching to Freedom Square. When the protesters arrived at the Yerevan State University Black Building, the guards locked the door, trapping the students (and me) inside. The rationale being that they need to protect the good students inside from the protesters.

11am: Raffi’s rally officially begins. This is Armenia, so it doesn’t really start until noon.

12pm: Raffi gives his speech. It was a speech similar to other speeches saying that he’s here for the people and that the people of Armenia are the ones with power. Also, Serzh Sargsyan should come and apologize to the people. The square is filled with people at this point. Rumor has it that Reuters estimates 12,000 people present.

1pm: At around one, Raffi gives his oath. It wasn’t the oath of presidency, but a “citizen’s oath.” Hetq has the details. Afterwards, he said there will be song and dance and to reconvene at 6pm. This is where I, thinking it was over, leave to go back to work, disappointed with the lack of content of his speech and how it sounded similar to all of his other speeches.

2-3ish: Raffi stayed in the square and people started complaining that he needs to do something. So, while half of the crowd has already left, Raffi starts leading a march in the city. He heads towards Haraparak and Tigran Metz, but suddenly switches directions and goes up Mashtots towards Baghramyan. This is where things get iffy because the police aren’t happy with the changed marching path. Some people are arrested.

3ish: At some point, Sargsyan has his inauguration where he says he will focus on emigration, unemployment and poverty (videos).

4pm: The police hold back the people on Demirchyan. Rumor has it, that it was done to give time for police to setup barricades on Baghramyan. They fall back within an hour.

5:30pm: A splinter group of protesters does a sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace and gets arrested. This news report says it happened at six, more notably, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked the protesters to go back to Freedom Square but they refused.

[Added:] 6pm: The crowd reconvened at Freedom Square where Raffi told the crowd that he would reveal his plan on Friday, the 12th. The crowd was angry and “booed and screamed” at Raffi to get him to do something. They convinced  him to march to Baghramyan.

6:30pm: Clashes occur with the police as Raffi starts leading people up Baghramyan. Raffi tries to push his way through the police, which leads to a madhouse. Raffi gets knocked down. Armen Martiorisan, Heritage’s candidate for Yerevan’s mayorship, gets roughed up by police and arrested and his nose broken (both visible in this video). [Incorrectly listed at 5pm in the original]

7pm: Raffi pulls his second WTF?? of the day by giving a short speech and asking people to go the Genocide Memorial. He leaves with most(?) of the crowd, but a large portion of the crowd refuses to leave. Many people are upset and feel like he is abandoning the people and the cause. [Incorrectly put at 5:30pm in the original]

8pm: Marshall Baghramyan metro stop was closed all day, so I walk to the protest coming from the North West. I’m able to get into the closed off center of the street and take some awesome photos (see below). I join the crowd at Baghramyan and Isahakyan.

8-10pm: Absolutely nothing happens as the people mill about. The crowd is constantly dwindling, decreasing from a few thousand to a few hundred by the end. Frustration with Raffi’s back and forth is increasing. Many people are saying that he, as a leader, failed the people.

9-10pm: The people are stopped in front of Baghramyan with Raffi talking to the head of police to allow them through. The police say no. Raffi then argues to let them walk on the sidewalk. It’s unclear if Raffi stayed with the crowd or was leaving and returning. Raffi doesn’t have a megaphone and the crowd couldn’t hear anything he said to the cameras, so there was lots of confusion.  Armenians have not yet discovered the People’s Mic[Incorrectly put at 7pm in the original]

Finally at about 10:30pm, the police allow the people to walk up the sidewalk of Baghramyan and open the street to car traffic. Almost certainly this came about from Raffi’s negotiation, but I can’t confirm. The plan was to sing the national anthem at the Presidential Palace, but no one felt like singing at that point.

Overall, many of the people I talked to are excited for the amount of energy and activism shown by Armenian people, while being frustrated with Raffi. Raffi did not have a plan for today, let alone a plan for the near future. While the people showed a lot of energy, that energy was lost by people waiting to see what Raffi would do and by his inconsistent comings and goings.
[Added at noon on 10 April:] ArmeniaNow has a good write up on the day. Also, my friend Ani has a (long) first-hand account of the day’s events from her perspective near Raffi’s family. She also has maps of the marching paths,  in case my description above is confusing.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A water cannon available to the police.

A water cannon

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

After sitting around for a while without going on, the police put down their shields.

After sitting around for a while without anything going on, the police put down their shields and relax a little.

The walk up Baghramyan and the police that followed the people up.

The final walk up Baghramyan, and the police that followed the people up.

[Edited for grammar the next morning. Edited again at 10:30am and again at noon to add extra content and corrections.]

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Releasing a Murderer and/or Hero

Yesterday, Hungary extradited the Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan. Safarov was found guilty of brutally killing a soldier at a NATO training in Hungary. Safarov used an axe to kill the soldier in his sleep (almost severing his head) and planned to kill another. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006, but after years of work, Baku was able to have him extradited to Azerbaijan. When he stepped foot in Azerbaijan he was promptly pardoned by the President and promoted to the rank of Major. Did I mention that the soldier he killed was Armenian?

Gurgen Margaryan, the Armenian soldier killed in his sleep by Ramil Safarov.

Gurgen Margaryan, the Armenian soldier killed in his sleep by Ramil Safarov.

Safarov’s brutal pre-mediated murder and attempted murder resulted in six years of prison followed by national acclaim. The national acclaim came swiftly, legitimizing his actions almost immediately. At the time, the human rights ombudsman of Azerbaijan said that Safarov should be “an example of patriotism for the Azerbaijani youth.”

Armenians are legitimately pissed about this. There have been protests, almost exclusively focused on Hungary for letting Safarov go. There’s little point in protesting Azerbaijan, so instead Hungary is the target for acting as an accomplice. Today a group of protestors went to the Hungarian consulate, threw eggs, 10-dram coins (like throwing pennies) and burned the Hungarian flag.

The Armenian government has reacted by cutting diplomatic relations with Hungary. Armenia had consistently warned Hungary about Safarov’s hero status in Azerbaijan. In Hungary’s defense, they say they received assurances from Azerbaijan. This just goes to show how weak diplomatic assurances are in political cases, but that topic is beyond the scope of this blog post. Unfortunately for Hungary, Azerbaijan was within its rights within the text of the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons as Article 12 gives the right for a signatory state to “grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws.”

A big question is why did Hungary make this transfer, and the answer there explains whether Armenia reacted wisely or not. If Hungary knew about or was willfully blind to Safarov’s imminent release, as most Armenians claim, then the Armenian government acted appropriately. Armenians are pointing at Azerbaijan’s intention to buy $3.77 billion worth of Hungarian bonds as evidence of the deal. The Ministry of the Diaspora has called on all Armenians to unite, organize, and protest Hungary. The Armenian Bar Association goes both ways by blaming Hungary while acknowledging that Hungary might just be “the latest nation of a long list of nations which have been hoodwinked by the deceptiveness of the Azeri government.”

If Hungary wasn’t aware of the imminent pardoning of Safarov (as I believe), then the Armenian government is letting its impulsive reaction get in the way of effective politicking. Armenia could turn to Hungary not as an enemy but an ally and make a joint statement condemning Azerbaijan’s action. Condemnations of Azerbaijan are coming from different governments (e.g. the US [Update 3:] and Russia), putting Armenia on the side of the majority against Azerbaijan. This could lead to deepening of ties between Armenia and Europe and political isolation of Azerbaijan. A win-win for Armenia. Instead, Armenia may be making an enemy of Hungary; and, if the diplomatic relations stay cut long enough, all of Europe might start to get annoyed at Armenia. A lose-lose for Armenia.

[Update:] The Hungarian people are organizing a protest against Safarov’s pardon as well. If the Armenian and Hungarian government’s can’t work together, perhaps their peoples can?

[Update 2:] Below is the alleged fax showing Azerbaijan’s assurances to Hungary.Azerbaijani assurances to Hungary

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Vahe Avetyan – Update #2: The 40-day Kar’asunk on August 7

This is a continuation of this post and this post.

August 7 is the 40-day anniversary of the death of Vahe Avetyan at the hands of Ruben Hayrapetyan’s bodyguards. Candlelight vigils are being planned to honor that day, and I highly suggest anyone and everyone that cares about average Armenians taking control of their country from the hands of Oligarchs to join in one. So far, the known candlelight vigils are:

I will be attending the candlelight vigil at Harsnakar. If anyone is interested in attending and needs help getting transportation, email me.

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