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Protest carnival is part of Armenia’s political system: experts

Nikol Pashinyan at the rally in Yerevan. Photo: Verelq.am

Even if the ongoing anti-government protests in Armenia grow into a revolutionary process, it will not be a velvet revolution, says Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. He sees nothing new in what is going on in Armenia. “There have always been elements of publicity in Armenian political culture and such political carnivals are quite typical of it. They are part of the country’s political system. So, I don’t think that the current process will have any special consequences,” Lukyanov said in an interview with EADaily.

He is sure that the times of velvet revolutions are gone. “Their peak was in the mid-2000s, when we saw lots of successful and not successful revolutions. But now things have changed and Ukraine is the best example of that change,” Lukyanov says.

“If we compare the processes that took place in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014, we will see that the revolution of 2004 was a big show and even though it had certain consequences, it did not cost Ukraine much. In contrast, the revolution of 2014 turned into a civil war. Today the global environment is much tougher than in the 2000s. The ‘Arab Springs’ and the ‘Maidans’ were just different aspects of one global process and we all know how they ended. But this model is no longer appropriate today. Present-day revolutions are fraught with bone-chilling consequences and the present-day leaders try to avoid them,” Lukyanov says.

He is sure that there will be no revolution in Armenia. “Even if the protesters manage to destabilize the situation, it will not be a velvet revolution – especially as Armenia is in the state of war. What velvet revolution are you talking about? Instability in Armenia will cause instability in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone as Armenia’s enemy, Azerbaijan, may well make use of the situation,” Lukyanov says.

“This will receive a very negative reaction from Russia as Armenia neighbors on a very risky region, where we have lots of ‘frozen’ and ongoing conflicts, the looming threat of a war with Iran and unpredictable Turkey. So, any instability may spark a big bang,” Lukyanov says.

Political expert Sergey Markedonov is not surprised to see protests in Armenia. “They have two reasons. Mass protest is an integral part of Armenia’s post-Soviet political culture. In Armenia’s contemporary history, almost all electoral campaigns were followed by street protests, with one and the same politician appearing first as a defender of the status quo and the government and then as an advocate of changes and an oppositionist. In 2018, the post of President ceased to be important in Armenia. So, the political highlight was the appointment of the prime minister. This time the protests started long before the date and reached their climax on Apr 16-17,” Markedonov says.

Director of the Eurasian Economic Union Institute Vladimir Lepekhin notes that the Armenian pro-Western opposition has used one and the same strategy over the last 25 years. “Summer protests are not something new for Armenia. In summer 2015, the opposition pushed youths into the streets against growing electricity tariffs; the next summer, they organized the youth’s clashes with the police following the seizure of a police department in Yerevan; in Apr 2018, they launched a protest campaign against new Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan,” Lepekhin said in an interview with EADaily.

“Yes, there are lots of politicians in Armenia who do not like Sargsyan. But was his appointment contrary to the new Armenian constitution or any national law? Any Armenia had a chance to vote for any political party opposing the ruling Republicans and to stop Serzh Sargsyan in a legal way. And many did that by voting for the Tsarukyan Bloc or the Yelk bloc. Why then did the leader of Yelk Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters decide to use non-parliamentary methods against the ruling party? It seems that for the several thousand activists protesting in the streets for the moment their own opinion is prior to the opinion of hundreds of thousands of Armenians who made their choice during the last year’s parliamentary elections. What we are witnessing in Armenia is artificial break-up of society into two camps: a law-abiding majority and a minority that disrespect the principles of parliamentary democracy and think that they can do whatever they like,” Lepekhin says.

“This is how quasi-revolutions generally start. They bring no improvements but break societies up into hostile camps. We could witness them in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. And who says that Pashinyan is better than Sargsyan? A year ago, Pashinyan’s Yelk bloc received just 7% of the votes against 50% given to Sargsyan’s RPA. To me, the current protests and the attempts to block roads and to paralyze public offices are the case when destructive actions come not so much from absence of democracy as from excess of it. In any case, the ruling regime is not going to use force against the protesters and is calling for a dialogue,” Lepekhin says.

“Our western ‘partners’ keep assuring us that political democracy is based on strong opposition, but to me, it is based on national accord. I think that radical opposition appears mostly in split societies, where ruling regimes ignore the interests of political rivals, and, vice versa, in societies based on national consensus and political equality for all social groups, street protests have no sense,” Lepekhin says.

“I think that today the Armenians (unlike people in many democratic states) enjoy a real chance to influence their government without street battles by just using the capacities of parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately, some politicians in Armenia take the government’s attempt to be democratic for its weakness. Armenia is the only post-Soviet republic where the political elite has managed to smoothly transit from presidential to parliamentary regime, the only CIS state, where national decisions will from now on be adopted by a forum, the National Assembly, rather than an individual, the President. And Sargsyan is the only post-Soviet leader who has managed to transform his country’s political system, and unlike many other post-Soviet leaders, he cannot be blamed for an attempt to stay in power as under current circumstances, the post of prime minister will be a hard and responsible duty rather than a sinecure for him,” Lepekhin says.

He notes that for many years already, an experienced politician like Nursultan Nazarbayev has been working hard to transform Kazakhstan into a parliamentary republic but is still unable to find a solution to this problem. “Sargsyan has managed to do this. I think that today sensible Armenians care not so much for Sargsyan as for the future of their country as they realize that if the ongoing street protests cause any changes in the government, they will break the fragile ‘fine tuning’ mechanism of balance in Armenia’s dialogue with Russia, Europe and the new U.S. authorities. If that mechanism is broken, the country will face both a civil war and a war with its neighbors,” Lepekhin says.

Since Apr 13, Yerevan has been overwhelmed by street protests against Serzh Sargsyan. On Apr 17, the leader of the protesters Nikol Pashinyan announced the start of a velvet revolution. The same day, the National Assembly, appointed Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister. The Armenian authorities are ready to negotiate with Pashinyan but he says that he will negotiate only the terms of Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation.

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