YEREVAN—Organizers of the “No to Plunder” movement, who spearheaded the now seven-day-long public protests against electricity rate hikes, announced Monday night that they will suspend a sit-in being staged at Liberty Square that began on Sunday and will hold a press conference to discuss next steps in the continuing fight to reverse the decision to raise electricity prices in Armenia. “No to Plunder” activists pledged their support to protesters on Baghramyan Avenue who are continuing their demonstration into the eighth day.
Saying that they are part of the ongoing protest on Baghramyan Avenue and speaking on behalf of the “No to Plunder” movement, Vaghinak Shoushanyan read a statement announcing the group’s decision to halt the sit-in at the Opera house and to hold an anticipated press conference.
“The government has taken a half step back,” said Shoushanyan, saying that the decision to conduct a far-reaching audit was a “half” step back for the government, while his group’s demands have not yet been met. “It is not one step forward for us, but a half step back for the government,” said Shoushanyan.
The awkward duality in the protests emerged Sunday after Yerevan police amassed the largest show of force since the beginning of the Baghramyan Avenue protests last Monday. Rows of officers wearing riot gear and red beret special forces began surrounding the perimeter of the protests, with police leaders threatening to break up the gathering by force.
This prompted the “No to Plunder” organizers to issue an announcement urging the group to move to the Opera at Liberty Square to begin what they called “public deliberations” on the next steps of the movement. Only several hundred protesters joined the “No to Plunder” movement on its march to Liberty Square, with the majority of protesters opting to stay on Baghramyan Avenue.
Speaking to protesters on Sunday, Shoushanyan cited the risk of renewed violent clashes with police as well as President Sarkisian’s announcement on Saturday that the government would temporarily absorb the costs of the energy price hikes as the impetus for the group’s decision to move to Liberty Square.
“By staying here longer we won’t be physically prepared to endure more police beatings and jets of water,” Shoushanyan told the crowd Sunday, adding that the group continued its solidarity with the Baghramyan Avenue gathering, but was not prepared to take on organizing responsibilities.
In his statement on Monday, Shoushanyan urged all experts in the field—attorneys, engineers, political officials—to join the proposed audit to ensure that a comprehensive process would be enacted to address the issue.
He pledged his group’s solidarity with the protesters on Baghramyan Avenue once again, saying that the group was prepared to take to the streets at any given time, if their demands of reversing the electricity price hike were not met fully.
Meanwhile on Baghramyan Avenue, protesters in large numbers continued to remain steadfast in their resolve, and pledged to continue the fight in a peaceful and organized manner without hindering rule of law, prompting law enforcement agencies to stand down and allowing the protest to progress. As of this writing, thousands of protesters continued to remain on Baghramyan Avenue.
What began as a weekend-long sit-in on June 19 by the “No to Plunder” movement has morphed into a demonstration attended by thousands on Baghramyan Avenue, steps away from the presidential offices on Monday, June 22.
On June 23, Yerevan police deployed water cannons and brute force to disperse the protesters from the street. The violence, however, did not deter the protesters, who returned to Baghramyan Avenue in greater numbers. The violent outburst by the police also prompted political officials, artists, and intellectuals to join the protests nightly to form a human shield against the police and to ensure that violence would not be used against the peaceful protesters.
Asbarez has been covering the events in Armenia from the first day, and by relying on the round-the-clock live coverage by Azaututyun.am has reported on the latest developments.