Tag Archives: Raffi Hovannisian

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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Yerevan’s Municipal Election

With Raffi just finishing his hunger strike but still protesting the presidential election results, the Yerevan Municipal election is heating up. Even though the vote is over a month away on May 5, this is a good thing for Armenia as people need to care more about the political processes. The hottest topic is whether this will be a coup for Raffi and Heritage or whether the opposition is thoroughly crushed.

The opposition could not agree on presenting a combined list, but they are working together to prevent election fraud. Raffi has a large support base in Yerevan, so there is a great possibility that the opposition can win this election, (of course, it would have helped if they had a combined list…). But, with separate lists, it’s more likely that oppositional figures will get more lower level seats (I believe called the Council of Elders), but less likely they will nab the mayorship.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, people supporting Heritage in the upcoming election are getting harassed. The former rector of the Yerevan State Linguistic University has been summoned twice for interrogation by the National Security Service. His crime? No idea, nothing has been stated, but it is notable that he supports Raffi and is on Heritage’s list for the election.

Prosperous Armenia is trying to change the discourse of the discussion to practical tasks of the position. Their frontrunner, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of Civilitas, is focused on the practical tasks of ensuring constant water in the city and promoting a more business-friendly environment. In contrast, the Republicans view this election as an opportunity for the children of current national leaders to cut their teeth and develop into the party’s new guard.

Sadly, who wins at the polls and who actually wins power can be two different people. So, there is a big push to get election observers, both locals and foreigners. Without the attention that comes with a presidential election, it is much more difficult to get outsiders to observe the 469 precincts in Yerevan. With that in mind, there is a big push to get Diasporans currently in Armenia involved. Locals can be easily intimidated, but foreigners can stand up to intimidation (secure in the fact that their embassy will support them). If you’re here in Armenia and want to help, I’m happy to connect you. Either contact Transparency International directly, or email me (Gabe.Armas-Cardona@nyu.edu), and I’ll be happy to connect you with the organizers.

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The Post-Election Dialogue Continues

On Friday, Raffi submitted a list of demands to Sargsyan. He would recognize Sargsyan’s victory in exchange for, among other things, 1) parliamentary elections, 2) electoral reforms and 3) his people in top government positions. See Raffi’s full list of demands here.

Unsurprisingly Sargsyan said no, but acknowledged that the letter is at least the basis for future dialogue. Sargsyan suggested that Raffi end the hunger strike, rest for a few days and then they can get to business “without fanfare.” Raffi will undoubtedly reject this offer as he’ll lose his two main advantages: the hunger strike that puts pressure on the government to act quickly and the public support that comes with his transparency.

Raffi will give his response today, but his hunger strike must be making his planning and strategizing much harder. At the beginning of these rallies, his style was much more of him taking outsider input but of him being the leader. He must depend more and more on aides as he grows weaker. And, in fact if Sargsyan met with Raffi without the “precondition” of ending the hunger strike, it’s unknown how well Raffi would be able to operate.

Also, Armenian Weekly has a phenomenal analysis of Raffi, as described by US cables. It shows how complicated (and unpredictable) Raffi has been and negates the idea that Raffi is merely a “western puppet.”

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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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The Verdict is in: Constitutional Court upholds Election Results

As expected by most people, the Constitutional Court has upheld the election results, confirming the presidency for Sargsyan. Without time to conduct a thorough recount (and including possible bias within the Court), the result was almost a foregone conclusion. Thus, come April 9th, Sargsyan will be reaffirmed as the president, minus some (unlikely) massive popular protest. The logic of the verdict, as best as I can determine, is that the election rigging was sporadic and not systematic. Thus, without systematic fraud, the sporadic fraud wasn’t enough to change the ultimate results. I really wish I knew what the Court said in response to the numerous statistical studies that suggest systematic fraud.

Raffi plans on continuing his hunger strike in Freedom Square. Raffi pitched a free standing canopy (as there was battling over whether he could have a tent). (Repeat of Mashtots Park?) So far, he has made no official statement regarding the Court’s verdict. It’s possible he’ll do so later today or at the planned rally tomorrow at 5pm.

Update: Raffi publishes a response in the Moscow Times saying that Sargsyan stole the election and that the movement will fight “to the very end.”

In related news, a deputy prosecutor shed his neutrality to call on the Constitutional Court to reject the electoral challenge. Also, popular performer Vardan Petrosyan, who appeared at one of Raffi’s rallies, was planning on meeting with students at the French University. Unfortunately the event had to be cancelled since the school authorities said that any student who met with him would be expelled.

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Constitutional Court Constitutionally Barred from Conducting Thorough Examination of what might be Constitutional Violations.

Today is the last day for arguments at the Constitutional Court regarding election violations. Unfortunately, it’s also the day the Constitutional Court must give its verdict. Heritage and Andreas Ghukasyan have called for recounts in 576 suspect polling stations and for more witnesses, including President Serzh Sargsyan. The Court has to categorically reject these valid claims because of Armenia’s Constitution.

Armenia’s Constitution states that (in Article 51):

“If the Constitutional Court admits a case on the results of presidential elections, it must render a decision within ten days following the receipt of the application….”

Today is the 10th day, thus the Court is extremely limited in its abilities to collect more information. Thus, it can only rely on evidence that has been presented to it. Considering that Raffi and Andreas didn’t have the support of state institutions in gathering evidence, they’re at a severe disadvantage to disprove the legitimacy of the CEC’s official results.

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