High Voltage: Yerevan Protest Ignites New Wave of Social Change

Thousands of citizens came out onto the streets of Yerevan Tuesday evening following a brutal police crackdown of protesters earlier that morning. (Photo: Serouj Aprahamian)


From the Armenian Weekly

Residents living on Yerevan’s Baghramyan Avenue awoke to the sounds of water cannons and police wagons on Tuesday morning as police violently dispersed an overnight sit-in held by activists protesting a recent hike in electricity fares.

Images of young demonstrators being hosed down, beaten, and dragged by riot police and plainclothes officers quickly spread through the internet and social media. More than 230 people were arrested in the melee, with several sustaining injuries.

The disproportionate use of force by the police elicited condemnation from the public andinternational observers. Many were stunned by the violence of the operation and official labeling of protesters as “hooligans,” especially given the overwhelmingly peaceful interaction that was maintained prior to the crackdown.

Organizers of the demonstration—members of a non-partisan movement called “No to Plunder”—repeatedly urged attendees not to get into any confrontations with the police. Participants could be heard constantly chanting “Officer, Join Us” (Vostikan Miatseer), displaying solidarity and emphasizing that they were fighting just as much for the officers’ rights as theirs. Those in the crowd who tried to antagonize the police or hurl objects at them were quickly shamed as saboteurs and neutralized.

Such a state of affairs is rare in Armenia, where protests tend to spiral into visceral conflict between activists and police. It was clear that the authorities were taken aback by the peaceful demeanor of the demonstrators, helping explain why the sit-in was allowed to last for nearly 11 hours in the center of downtown Yerevan.

Nevertheless, in the end, when they were given orders to disperse the crowd, the police did so with the traditional methods of aggression they are accustomed to. Rather than instill fear in the population, the widespread use of force only reinvigorated the movement. Whereas about 4,000 demonstrators marched on Baghramyan on Monday, by Tuesday evening, a crowd of 15,000 had gathered in the streets.

Despite the anger over the attacks, protesters on Tuesday continued to emphasize the importance of remaining peaceful. “Our struggle is not against a specific person or the police,” exclaimed a “No to Plunder’’ member over the megaphone before the second march to Baghramyan. “Our struggle is against injustice.” He reminded the crowd of the importance of remaining non-violent and reassured them that victory would be achieved.

In this and many other ways, these protests mark a clear departure from the politics of the past. Spearheaded by a crop of young activists from various independent civic initiatives that have developed over the past five years, this movement is crystallizing a new spirit of civic engagement in Armenia.

This spirit is, first and foremost, a rejection of the single leader-based, political party approach. Young people have seen how the political opposition led by figures such as Levon Ter Petrossian, Raffi Hovhannisian, and, most recently, Gagik Tsarukyan, have failed to bring about change. Meanwhile, independent civic and social movements have achievedsignificant victories over and over again (a point that is brought up regularly by movement organizers).

Instead of looking toward charismatic leaders or foreign governments for their salvation, this new generation is looking toward local, non-partisan grassroots action. They are not politicized or tied to any NGO’s and categorically reject the concept of a leader. They operate in a democratic manner, putting issues as important as whether or not to meet with the president up to demonstrators to decide (both on Monday and Tuesday, they rejected President Serge Sarkisian’s offer to “negotiate” over their demands).

Their main calling cry is “We Are the Owners of Our Country” (Menk Enk Teruh Mer Yerkrin), a slogan that emphasizes hope, agency, and responsibility for the future of the country, rather than passivity and disillusionment so common among many Armenians.

In addition, these protests have attracted large swaths of young people who make up the core of the movement—not just college students but even teenagers and young kids. They are coming out into the streets voluntarily—with drums in hand, lively energy, and non-violent tactics—showing that they are unwilling to accept unjust, illegal decisions in their homeland. This large youth presence alone sends a strong message to the authorities that the future will not be one of passive and apathetic citizens.

And this message has already been heeded.

Thanks to the activism of these young people, the 40-percent price hike originally proposed was reduced to 17 percent, public hearings have been held around the issue, and even government officials have begun criticizing the Russian company that operates Armenia’s power distribution network.

What’s more, the back-to-back protests on Baghramyan Avenue have paralyzed several main thoroughfares in the city at the height of tourist season, further raising the costs of the government’s unjust decision. Rather than look at the protests as an attempt to reach the Presidential Palace directly, they should be seen as a means for putting pressure on the authorities through the disruption of state affairs and bringing global attention to the issue.

As of this writing, protesters continue to raise the pressure by demonstrating into the early night on Baghramyan Avenue. What the final fate of their action will be is yet to be determined. But one thing is clear: The political vacuum left open by the traditional opposition in Armenia is quickly being filled by a younger, more democratic and progressive current of social change. The further consolidation and strengthening of this current is likely to be the greatest hope for confronting the unjust system prevailing in the country.


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  1. German_in_Yerevan said:

    These protestors have valid demands. The price of electricity in Armenia has gone up by around 80% in the last 7 years in EURO terms while it has gone down by 13%-20% in Germany over the same period. Something or rather someone(s) is obviously incompetent and should make way to someone (s) that know how to run a public utility company. If the government and President fail to acknowledge this and immediately reverse this foolish price hike it will be the start of a very ugly civil unrest that will stunt growth and eliminate the modest gains in the economy and infrastructure achieved in the last couple of years.

    • State-Of-Emergency said:

      Because Russia does not own 100% of Germany’s power production. Russians are well known to be inept and corrupt in everything they do and Armenians are not to far behind.

      • State-Of-Emergency said:

        Because Russia does not own 100% of Germany’s power production. Russians are well known to be inept and corrupt in everything they do and Armenians are not too far behind.

  2. Mkhitar Yepremyan said:

    Serz sarkissian and Robert Kocharian have plundered the Armenian wealth among their oligarch circles after Levon Ter Petrossian practically destroyed the industrial infrastructure of Armenia. Shame on all of them!
    Yes, it is true that Russian Companies own majority of networks in Armenia, but who was responsible to hand over these networks to whom? Let us agree on the fact that still the Armenian Oligarchs are in the management of these services under whoever ownership and these oligarchs are milking the Russian networks. Yes there is mismanagement and we have to blame it to our Armenian brothers in charge.
    Serz Sarkissian, Robert Kocharian and even Levon Ter Petrossian have billions of dollars in their personnel deposition. If these fake leaders had any sense of respect for their nation and its people and cared for the future of Armenia, right now and right now they would pay off all of Armenia’s national debt, build up housing for all homeless earth quake survivors, bring in industrial machinery into Armenia and Artsakh and yes revive the Armenia’s economy by creating employment. But to a great sorrow these filthy rich leaders are the opposite of us idealist. For your information, Serzh Sarkissian’s brother Sashik Sarkissian has over 50+ Valerio Gas stations in the United States and has invested billions of dollars in commercial investments in the United States. Where did Sashik Sarkissian get all these wealth from? Yes, this is all Serzh Sarkissian’s plundered and looted money from our beloved homeland Armenia. And the same story goes to his oligarch circles.
    simple and good wishers.
    Levon, had his chance but goofed big time. Robert and Serzh had their chance but looted and plundered. Serzh Sarkissian must go, yes today, no later!These young brave and energetic Armenian young peaceful demonstrators want a change and if Serz Sarkissian can not deliver this change then he must go. In fact Serzh Sarkissian must go now without any delay. Armenians do not want any TALANCHIS in their nation period. Serzh Sarkissian has failed the litmus test and must go. Serzh Heratsir!
    Let us not be critical of Russia only. Russia is Armenia’s strategic partner. Yes she also makes mistakes. Russia’s selling military weapons to Azerbaijan is a stupid thing such as the Western world’s support of the Genocidal Turkey. But we can not allow the Western World to butt in and destroy our unity and make color revolutions in our beloved homeland because she wants to weaken the Russian influence in that region of the world. . If Russia and United States in particular are at odds at each other, it is their problem, let them do their stupid wars on someone else’s backyard but not in Armenia. Just a simple thing, the United States has not officially recognized the Armenian Genocide and is dragging her feet! That says a lot, does not it?
    Armenians and Armenia need a social and leadership change in Armenia now. Enough of green card lotteries in Armenia and immigration to Russia and elsewhere. We are the owners of our land period. We are the chosen people and the cradle of civilization. If we respect ourselves then odars will respect us and this is a proven fact. We are the owners of our land HAYASTAN.

    • State-Of-Emergency said:

      Yes, strategic partner to rape and pillage every last vestige of Armenian independence.and resources.

    • Raffi said:

      Corruption is a worldwide decease, it’s not only in eastern countries, Europe corruption is everywhere, besides Are you sure they have Billions? if yes, I’m happy for them as long as THEY REINVEST THE MONEY IN ARMENIA and CREATE JOBS, that itself is an achievement, large projects need management skills, to manage billions it needs leadership, Armenians should look for the future and see where it is headed to, Ucrain style Maidan can serve nobody, only the enemies of Armenians.

  3. State-Of-Emergency said:

    This to will be crushed with covert Russian forces. At worst, a ‘spontaneous’ rebel group will arise and take control of the situation, or at best the protesters will be beaten to a pulp and sent away in body bags.