YEREVAN—Thousands of Yerevan residents were barricaded by police after a group of protesters began advancing toward the Presidential Palace on Monday evening, forcing the group to stage a peaceful sit-in on the street to demand that the government revise a decision to hike electricity prices in Armenia.
The mass sit-in, which began Friday evening, comes on the heels of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) of Armenia voting unanimously on June 17 to raise electricity prices from 42 AMD/kWh to 49 AMD/kWh. This is the third consecutive price hike by the government in the last 3 years and the fourth since 2009, making Armenia the country with the highest electricity rates in the region.
The protesters began their march toward the Presidential Palace at 7 p.m. from Liberty Square. Armenian police forces immediately began advancing toward the protesters and officers in riot gear surrounded the perimeter of where the demonstrators had gathered. The events are being broadcast live on Azatutyun.am.
The dramatic standoff with the police did not escalate to violence as both demonstrators and police vowed to not provoke each other. The demonstrators, however, rejected a proposed meeting with five of their representatives at the Presidential Palace, saying that the government must answer to the people.
Chanting slogans such as “Free, Independent Armenia,” and “No to Plunder,” the demonstrators remained resolute in their commitment to urge a reversal of the decision.
Vaghinak Shoushanyan, one of the protest organizers, rejected the proposal and demanded that the government address the concerns of the people and reverse the energy rate hike, which is scheduled to go into effect on August 1.
The “No to Plunder” movement claims that the process through which the rate hike was instituted was illegal, and the people are now demanding a more transparent process.
At one point, deputy police commissioner Valeri Osipyan advanced toward the organizers of the protest to urge them to leave the street. The protesters were urging Osipyan to join the protest and asked his police force to “join the people.”
“We have nothing to discuss with him,” Maxim Sargsian, one of the leaders of the “No to Plunder” movement, told Osipyan.
At this writing, six hours had passed since the protesters peacefully gathered in front of the offices of Armenia’s Writers’ Union on Baghramyan Street. Osipyan warned protesters of severe consequences if they stayed beyond the 11 p.m. noise ordinance. This prompted residents of the buildings around Baghramyan Street to sign a petition of support saying that they were not bothered by the noise and deliver it to protest organizers, expressing their solidarity.
Osipyan said that the demonstrators were breaking the law, and that while they have the freedom to express their views, blocking a main artery in the capital was clearly illegal.
Both protesters and members of the government agree that the price increases are due to the mismanagement and indebtedness of RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES), a Russian-owned company that operates Armenia’s power distribution network. The government insists that rates have to be raised in order to ensure that UES gets out of debt and is operational, leaving average citizens and small businesses—that are already overburdened with socio-economic hardship—to foot the bill.
The will and resolve of the protesters demonstrates the people’s willingness to fight for their rights. This movement must be welcomed by all Armenians.