Armenia’s Velvet Revolution has thrown off an autocratic pro-Russian regime, yet, Russia has remained silent. With Armenia’s new government making diplomatic overtures to Moscow, this revolution has taken the style of a Colour Revolution, without the substance.
If Twitter, Facebook and Youtube were the platforms of choice for Tahrir Square in 2011, Instagram might be the ideal platform for the ongoing revolution in Armenia.
Yet, this revolution doesn’t evoke images of clashes with police and tear gas. Rather, it has been marked by construction trucks filled with students, volleyball games, refreshment and playing dress up with the flag.
On Tuesday, the long-ruling Republic Party’s capitulation was completed when several of its parliamentary members elected the leader of the protests, Nikol Pashinian, as the new prime minister of the country. Previous Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned just weeks ago, and over the last three weeks of festive and peaceful protests, the three decade reign of the Republic Party came to an end.
The revolution started with protests over the hiking of electricity prices in 2015 by a Russian holding company owned by Russian oligarch Igor Sechin, who is regarded as the right hand man to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That price-hike put Armenia’s electric grid into such turmoil that outages ensued, which plunged parts of the country into darkness. Some protesters were even forced to use their phones to light the street as they protested. The protests quickly became known as “Electric Yerevan,” a phrase coined at the time Kanye West held his 2015 concert in the country, which proceeded to explode on social media. West also was accompanied by Armenian-American celebrity Kim Kardashian, and the pair quickly became emblematic to the movement.
Electric Yerevan has been compared, by its participants, to the Velvet Revolution that swept Czechoslovakia in 1989. The word, Velvet, was derived from the “gentle” and relatively peaceful nature of the protests, which many participating Armenians are seeking to emulate as well. The resistance in Armenia has been big, loud, bright and colorful, but not violent.
The 1989 Velvet Revolution also kicked off a succession of other “Colour Revolutions” across Eastern Europe, in which former members of the Soviet sphere of influence cast off the totalitarian systems of government leftover from the collapse of Communism. Similar revolts have popped-up since and continue today, from Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution (2014) to Armenia’s Electric Yerevan (2015).
But this time around things stayed festive, as seen on Instagram today. And, whereas previous Colour Revolutions begged for EU and NATO membership, there has not been an EU flag in sight amidst the one in Armenia.
The absence of the EU seems to be deliberate as well. According to Reuters reporting, new PM Pashinian was in direct contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Yerevan throughout the protests, and according to Armen Grigoryan, one of the protest leaders, “We (the protest leaders) worked with them (Moscow) … we learned from Euromaidan that a revolution should not have an international agenda.”
The experience of Ukraine showed that modern Russia isn’t the broken, bleeding, and bankrupt Soviet Union of 1989. Calls to join NATO and the EU enraged the Russians, and led the country to lose a substantial portion of its territory to separatists.
Upon his appointment as the new PM, Pashinian made a statement announcing that he hoped to hold talks with Putin soon, and Russia issued a public congratulations. Pashinian also relied on the support of the “Prosperous Armenia” party, which is headed by the Armenian oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, who a U.S. diplomatic cable described as having “a personal style which would make Donald Trump look like an ascetic.” The party is powerful — it holds the second-largest number of seats in parliament — and runs on the populist promises of more jobs, lower taxes, and love for country. Ahead of the vote to make Pashinian PM, Tsarukyan traveled to Moscow on April 27th.
Pashinian remains committed to continuity in his country’s relations with Russia, including Russia’s pet international economic and security projects (the Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization). And, on May 14th, Pashinian will be traveling to Sochi, Russia, to participate in an Eurasian Economic Union meeting.
“Our relations need to be based on friendship, equal rights, and a mutual desire to solve problems,” Pashinian said. “We see military cooperation with Russia as the main way of ensuring Armenia’s security.”
[Title Image: Instaworthy revolt in Republic Square, Yerevan (via Reddit)]
LIMA CHARLIE NEWS, Diego Lynch with James Fox and Ashley Bogdan
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