Former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has officially stepped down from his post atop the Eastern European nation’s rank and file. His position had become untenable as increasing numbers of protestors came to openly call for regime change, with Sargsyan’s supporters claiming that much of that pressure was being funded by foreign non-government organizations.
Sargsyan’s critics have questioned the legitimacy of a recent election result that would have installed him as the prime minister after the government recently switched to the Parliamentary system from one which saw the role of president as most powerful. Sargsyan, elected as president in both 2008 and 2013, would have been ineligible to rule without such a change in the system. He had previously pledged not to run for the office of prime minister should such a change be made, lending some credence to the protests that were occurring for ten days afer results were announced.
The epitaph on Sargsyan’s tenure as President of Armenia will not be quite as one sided as the protests, as his announcement that he would honor the will of the people and resign, might suggest.
Critics of the “Velvet Revolution”, as it has been dubbed, point out a common thread between similar revolutions in recent history: the alleged injection of outside influence potentially undermining the authenticity of anti-regime protests.
“All ‘colored’ revolutions are staged by American structures: in Ukraine it was CIA and in Armenia it is George Soros—he paid for this state coup, a major violation of democracy,” Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst based in Moscow told The Daily Beast. “American Facebook is an instrument—today it was used in Armenia, tomorrow it might be used in Belarus, Kazakhstan and then in Russia,” Markov said, noting that official Moscow was shocked by Armenian revolution. (The Daily Beast)
But, even if there has been some influence originating from outside actors with less than the best intentions for Armenia, it seems clear that a significant portion of the Armenian population felt that the time for change is now. Many of those people took issue with Sargsyan’s apparent backtracking when he had previously promised not to overstay his welcome. But, there were also instances of physical violence against protestors which rubbed some the wrong way, leading to portrayals of the former president as a strongman.
Much of the protest has been the result of a national economy plagued by stagnation. But, as the years have progressed with mass protests popping up annually since 2013, the tone of those protests has gone from economic-minded to one that has become insistent on a change in regime. It suggests widespread discontent with the state of life in Armenia that, perhaps unfairly, has been pinned on the Sargsyan administration.
‘In 2013, demonstrators protested price hikes for public transportation. In 2014 it was pension reform. In 2015, what started as a protest against higher electricity bills became the so-called “Electric Yerevan” movement that Russian state-controlled media hyperbolically compared to Ukraine’s Maidan.
But this summer’s protest is different — not so much in form, but in character. No longer are the demands social and economic; now the ultimatum is regime change.’ (MT)
The darker side of these protests emerged in July 2016, when armed men took control of a police station in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, which has emerged as the epicenter for anti-Sargsyan demonstrations. Those men held four police officers hostage and demanded the resignation of Sargsyan and the release of Jirair Sefilian of the Founding Parliament movement, an opposition leader accused by the authorities of plotting civil unrest. But, the picture painted of these men is also split, as the officers were eventually released, and many feel that the Sargsyan regime had left its opponents little choice in taking up such apparently drastic measures. The incident and subsequent protests left several on both sides injured.
Sargsyan’s resignation seems a fitting end to a tenure that was marked by opposition from the very beginning. In his inaugural victory in 2008, the freshly-elected Sargsyan had to contest allegations that his victory was fraudulent over the course of ten days of protest. It was alleged that, after nine days of continual demonstrations, the military and police were dispatched to disperse the crowds through physical means. It wasn’t a strong start to what would become a trend virtually throughout Sargsyan’s presidency and brief term as prime minister.
Now, Sargsyan is out, with protestors rejoicing but uncertainty looming greater than any other force. As we have witnessed in similar revolutions, the euphoria of apparent victory is often beset by the reality of a rudderless nation and even worse economic hardship. In a nation where corruption is known to be chronic and rampant, Sargsyan allowed greater penetration of the internet and, reluctantly, increased freedom of the press and access to information. While he ceratainly was no saint, other nations – especially in Eastern Europe – have learned the hard way that when it comes to regime change, a nation calling for a quick fix has to be careful what they wish for.