YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—No To Plunder, the Armenian youth group that was behind the recent “Electric Yerevan” protests, said on Friday that it will resume its campaign of “civil disobedience” next week, accusing the government of reneging on a pledge to subsidize energy prices.
Leaders of No To Plunder said that while the tariffs remain unchanged for households for now, Armenian businesses are being forced to pay more for electricity used by them. According to No To Plunder, this runs counter to President Serzh Sarkissian’s assurance that the government would “shoulder the whole burden” of the more than 17 percent price hike, pending the findings of an emergency audit of Armenia’s national power utility.
Sarkissian made the statement on June 28 at the height of non-stop protests on a central Yerevan avenue that were organized by No To Plunder, and attended by thousands of mostly young people. No To Plunder was pushed aside by other, more radical activists after urging the protesters to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue because of the concessions announced by Sarkissian.
“He said nothing about not subsidizing small and medium-sized businesses,” argued Artush Chibukhchian, one of the group’s leaders.
“Serzh Sarkissian has fooled the people and we must respond to that on the street,” Chibukchian charged at a news conference. “Serzh Sarkissian wants to make electricity more expensive. He doesn’t want to solve this problem.”
“We are resuming the street struggle,” he said. “We have had a chance to see that issues are solved on the street. They [the authorities] won’t do anything unless you put pressure on them.”
Mihran Avagian, another No To Plunder leader, announced that the youth movement will resume its street protests on September 1. But neither he nor Chibukhchian disclosed details of the planned actions. They said only that the group might again occupy Marshal Bagramian Avenue leading to the presidential administration building.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear as to who will conduct the promised audit of the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), the loss-making utility owned by the Russian company Inter RAO, or when. The Armenian government has so far only commissioned a U.S. consulting firm, Deloitte, to investigate and conclude whether the price hike sanctioned by Armenian state regulators in early June was justified.
Observers believe that the energy tariff for households will not rise at least until a referendum on constitutional changes takes place, which they see as vital for President Sarkissian’s political future. The referendum is expected to take place in November.