BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
All too familiar images flooded social media on Friday as photos and videos showing masked Special Services officers dragging and beating peaceful opposition protesters, mostly members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization of Armenia, in Yerevan’s Republic Square.
I say “all too familiar” because we have seen those images before and the person who was always ready with a bullhorn to condemn such violence was non other than Armenia’s current prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan. It seems, however, that the pressure he is facing today from various corners of Armenia’s civic society has prompted him to all but abandon his “principles” and unleash the very forces against whom he was fighting in the heyday of his activism—a.k.a. before he came to power.
On Friday, some 85 protesters were arrested, most of whom were violently apprehended and were pulled, tugged, jerked and shoved before they were hauled for questions. While most of them have been released after a few hours of interrogation, the fact remains that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Or perhaps, Pashinyan was making good on his often spouted threat of dragging those who did not follow his lead across the pavement. “Ասֆալթին կը փռենք,” he would say at rallies to the cheers of hundreds of his followers, forgetting that he was on the receiving end when those same forces were firing rubber bullets at citizens in narrow residential streets of Yerevan or when protesters were being hosed down by water cannons—all too familiar images.
There is a gigantic difference, however, in the protests that are happening today.
Opposition forces, among them the ARF, are not protesting electricity rate hikes or seeking to avert the usurpation of power by the old guard with the promise of a brighter future.
They are protesting and rightfully demanding Pashinyan’s resignation because he—unilaterally—signed an agreement with the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan that on the one hand ended a bloody war, but on the other it stipulates the surrender of historic Armenian territories in Artsakh to the enemy, as well as facilitating a transport link between Turkey and Azerbaijan through Armenia and the introduction of Turkish troops a stone’s throw away from Artsakh.
Since signing the agreement last week, Pashinyan has shrugged off and ignored criticism and calls for his and the government’s resignation whether they have come from opposition protesters, civic leaders or Armenia’s president, who said that the overwhelming majority of all the political forces, opinion makers and Diaspora institutional representatives he consulted believe that the government’s resignation and snap elections would be the best course for Armenia, and the entire Armenian Nation, as we collectively deal with the devastating blow from the war.
Instead Pashinyan introduced a roadmap comprised of 15 points, the majority of which are geared toward hastening his firm grip on power. His response to deal with this catastrophic crisis was to tell the people “I’ll see you in six months,” in June 2021, when he is supposed to report on the progress of his plan.
Our nation is living through one of the most consequential and detrimental realities in its history. As the leader of our homeland, Pashinyan must be the person who unifies us, but instead he is widening the schisms and fueling tensions. The unleashing of the special forces on demonstrators on Friday speaks volumes about his own adherence to the democratic principles and ideals he has been preaching.
One of the basic tenets of democracy is the people’s—or a person’s—right to free expression, which is often manifested through assembly and protests. He banked on that maxim when he led the movement that brought him to power in 2018. Evidently, in 2020 what was good for “My Step” is not good—and is punishable—for their step.