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Armenia: struggle for leadership in opposition or against Serzh Sargsyan?

A day before the election of Armenia’s prime minister, protest activity in the country was very high. As many as 10,000 people, led by MP Nikol Pashinyan, blocked streets and bridges in Yerevan on Apr 16 in protest of the election of the former Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan as new prime minister. As a result, the traffic in Yerevan and the two other biggest cities of Armenia, Gyumri and Vanadzor, was paralyzed.

There were clashes with the police. Several people were injured. The police used riot control weapons, but the protesters are still resolved to sabotage the election on Apr 17. “Tomorrow we will have to be even more active in blocking the streets. We will have to block all entries and exits to and from the National Assembly and we must start the preparations right now,” Pashinyan said to thousands on Apr 16 evening.

“We must block all of Yerevan’s streets. We are not going to use violence. We are against any form of violence. But we doubt that peaceful civil disobedience actions can help us to achieve our goal – to prevent Serzh Sargsyan from regaining control of the country as Prime Minister,” Pashinyan said.

“Just like many other people in Armenia, I object to Serzh Sargsyan’s appointment as prime minister, but I doubt that peaceful protests will be effective. How can one peacefully overcome a system that protects itself with police and army,” one of the protesters named Artur said, adding that he personally was against armed coup. “But we are sick and tired of Serzh (Sargsyan) and his men and we must do something to get rid of them – for as a result of their rule our life has become worse, the prices are high, corruption is thriving, people keep emigrating,” 21-year-old student Angela told EADaily.

Most of the protesters were angry. People are angry that they can’t do anything to change the ruling regime and have no specific plan of action.

“Protest moods are widely spread in Armenia. You can see protesting people in any café, restaurant, yard or taxi. The only reason why they do not go into the streets is that they don’t trust either the ruling regime or the opposition. This is why it is hard to organize mass protest actions in Armenia,” political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan told EADaily.

The last polls prove Iskandaryan’s words.

According to the poll held by Gallup International Association on Mar 22-30, 2018, just 4.7% of Armenians trust their government, 20.4% rather trust, 23.4% rather distrust, 47.5% distrust, 3.9% are undecided. The picture is almost the same for the opposition: just 4.9% trust it, 19.3% rather trust, 26.2% rather distrust, 43.7% distrust, 6% are undecided.

This is why, according to Iskandaryan, few people in Armenia go into the streets to express their displeasure even though most of the Armenians are displeased. “The Armenian protest spirit needs a channel for being politicized and transformed into specific demands. Since there are no such channels (opposition, parliament, etc.), certain people are forced to organize demonstrations or civil disobedience actions, but they receive no mass support. The ruling regime mistakes this for stability but the reality is that radical moods in Armenia are growing,” Iskandaryan said.

“People who have no political channels for solving their problems come forward with more radical moods: they begin to talk about the need to shoot, to use arms for achieving their goals. When such moods are existent, there will always be a few people who will decide to put this scenario into practice as was the case with the capture of a police office in Yerevan two years ago,” Iskandaryan said.

Experts doubt that the protesters will be able to wreck the Apr 17 election of Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister but are confident that Nikol Pashinyan has proved his ability to lead the opposition in the next four years – till the next parliamentary elections.

Arshaluys Mgdesyan

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