Tag Archives: Serzh Sargsyan

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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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 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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Election Devolution

I got to say that while I expected something, I didn’t expect this. On Sunday, Raffi Hovannisian declared a hunger strike. This will be his second hunger strike; his first was in March 2011. He also built up the rhetoric saying that Sargsyan’s swearing in will occur in Freedom square “over [his] dead body.” In response, Sargsyan is simply moving the swearing in ceremony. Sadly, I believe Raffi Hovannisian has jumped the shark.

For weeks, Raffi has been hammering that this is the people’s victory and the people’s revolution. He’s been as effective as a leader can be to say that he is not the one that matters in the movement. He’s been improving as a speech giver and has seemed more and more presidential. While many have been pressuring him to do something, I don’t think anyone suggested another hunger strike. We already had a hunger strike this election and it didn’t produce the hoped for results. Instead, this action will refocus the movement on Raffi and his health status rather than on public demonstrations and demands.

The Minister of Justice decided to “take a vacation” to defend the President in the Constitutional Court. You would think that the Republican Party would have their own legal team that wouldn’t require the sitting (and supposedly neutral) Minister of Justice to take a vacation from his real job to defend the President.

Also, here is one more story of voter fraud from an OSCE/ODIHR observer. What makes this story different? The observer is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Minister of Justice of Ireland. A special prosecutor called Narine Esmaeili, Birthright Armenia volunteer, election observer and victim of electoral abuse, a liar and her story as false. I wonder if a special prosecutor will do the same to the Irish former Minister?

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Election Protests Update: Losing Momentum

It’s now been almost three weeks since election day, and it’s still not clear what’s going to happen next. The opposition isn’t pushing for an all-or-nothing battle with the government (which they’d likely lose), but it’s still not clear where they’re going with this. On Monday, I think Raffi will have to declare something or he’ll start losing his strong popular support.

Monday is when the Constitutional Court will review Raffi’s electoral challenge. Interestingly, Sargsyan will be meeting with Putin that day, commonly viewed as the kingmaker here in Armenia. If the constitutional challenge fails, Raffi won’t have any legal options left to contest the election and will be dependent on people putting so much pressure on the politicians that they’ll submit to a political solution. It doesn’t seem like Raffi’s supporters are putting nearly enough pressure on the government to achieve that.

Assorted links

  • One protestor states how this movement is larger than just Raffi Hovannisian, and the activists “will continue to struggle regardless of what Raffi does.”
  • One of the presidential candidates, Vardan Sedrakyan, was arrested as the alleged ringleader behind the shooting of Paruyr Hayrikyan. I can’t fathom why he would do something like that, but we’ll see what develops.
  • Raffi had an uplifting rally on International Women’s Day that called for recognition of the contributions of women, among other things. During the rally, Heritage representatives pointed how Sargsyan made a number of promises in 2008 to increase socio-economic status of Armenians that have turned out to be empty.
  • Hetq has an analysis about the (non-existent) dialogue between Raffi and Levon Ter-Petrosyan. The analysis is interesting but it ignores all the negative baggage that comes with Levon’s positives.
  • A member of the Pre-Parliament Sardarapet Group views this period as a period of transition where Armenia is turning from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
  • The Prosecutor is launching criminal cases on electoral fraud! Twelve cases have been launched (seven from evidence from the media), with three going to court. In the mean time, here is yet another statement regarding numerous cases of electoral fraud.

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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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