BY MARIA TITIZIAN
We are sitting at Café Vergnano on Northern Boulevard with a group of friends, drinking coffee watching the clock. It’s almost 5 p.m. and we know where we have to be. We pay the bill, gather up our belongings and begin making our way to Liberty Square. The sky is overcast and I check my bag to make sure my umbrella is there. It’s been three days since the presidential elections and every day there have been rallies. I am nervous and have difficulty catching my breath.
As we cross Tumanyan Street, we see that thousands have already gathered and even more are streaming into the square. I begin to breathe again. As we walk into the crowd, we see familiar faces. There are artists, writers, environmentalists, ordinary men and women and lots of young people. There is a peculiar silence as everyone, standing shoulder to shoulder wait for the speeches to begin.
A group of men, holding sunflower seeds in little paper cones make their way to where we are and assemble near us. In front of me is a middle aged couple, quietly talking to one another. Their inaudible conversation is mesmerizing even though I don’t know what they are talking about, but assume it has something to do with hope. It’s almost reverent.
I turn to my right and see a well known environmental activist, a writer and my cousin standing together talking. My cousin, what can I say about him? He is the brother I never had. He is the spitting image of my grandfather, a Genocide survivor from Musa Dagh, my guardian angel in heaven who I never got a chance to meet but with whom I share an almost divine relationship. Ruben sees me and we hug each other tightly and look at each other, I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Every time I see him I am reminded of my family back in Canada and the crushing garod I feel for them. Ruben was born in Armenia, our fathers were first cousins. My four great uncles repatriated to Armenia in 1947 and I met Ruben for the first time when we moved to Armenia. We are not of the same political persuasion but today, in Liberty Square those lines are blurred and it doesn’t matter.
The speeches begin. There is complete silence. The air is getting colder and the crowd is swelling. I link arms with my friend Dzovig who has arrived with her family. My husband and daughter stand behind us; other friends and acquaintances surround us, and my people stand strong, resolute, hopeful. My son is here too, somewhere in the crowd, filming for Civilnet, which has been working around the clock covering the events unfolding in our lives. We are all here. Here in the square, we the people stand and wait. There is this crazy impossible love pouring out of my heart and I’m having difficulty breathing once again.
One after another, the speeches take place. Young political activists, environmentalists, representatives of civil society, presidential candidates, and representatives of other political parties take the podium and deliver their speeches. We can all feel a movement beginning to take shape, we’re not entirely sure how it will develop or how it will manifest itself but there is something taking place. In the middle of the roster of speakers, Raffi Hovhanessyan announces that the ARF has decided to join the movement and the crowd starts cheering. The group of men in front of us with the sunflower seeds turn to each other and say, “Ara, Dashnaknere miatsel en, ara es arten lurj e,” (Hey, the ARF has joined in. This is serious) and they start phoning their friends saying, “Ara, yegek, Dashnaknere miatsel en” (My cousin Ruben turns to me and says, finally. I start to breathe again.
As dusk falls on the square, no one has moved, everyone is waiting to hear what Raffi will say about his meeting with Serzh Sarkisian that had taken place a day before. There is an electric anticipation. I just keep hoping that a deal hasn’t been struck, that Raffi will make the right decision, that the people are going to keep the pressure up.
After standing in the cold for two hours, listening to one speech after another, Raffi finally steps up to the podium. He explains to the people in the square, to the people watching the rally being livestreamed throughout the country and around the world that all of his proposals for a solution to the impasse have been rejected by the president. He says that he will not back down, that he will take his message the following day to Ashtarak, Vanadzor and Gyumri. He says this is a movement for a new Armenia; he invites everyone to join the movement. This is the Barev Revolution, the Barevolution. The crowd goes wild, I think I might have whistled or jumped for joy or floated, I can’t remember. We go home, elated and wait to congregate to Liberty Square in two days.
And indeed, the following day Raffi and his team of supporters begin their journey to the cities in the north of the country where he had been able to pull in incredible numbers, beating the incumbent in village after village, in city after city. Everywhere they go, they are greeted by thousands of people. In some places, the police have blocked roads from surrounding villages to ensure that people don’t take part. Unbroken and resolute, they leave their cars behind and walk, sometimes up to ten kilometers on foot to join their compatriots. It seems nothing will stop them from participating in what now appears to be a nationwide movement. We hear calls for a student strike. My husband and I start wondering aloud, if university students find the strength, the courage to boycott classes and join this movement, then this will be unstoppable.
The next rally is set to take place on Sunday, February 24 at 3 p.m.. Once again we head toward Liberty Square. Hundreds of people are making their way, walking, talking, holding hands. We enter the square and make our way to our usual spot, it seems we have become regulars here. At first we notice that there aren’t as many people as two days ago, but still people are making their way into the square. Two young girls are walking through the crowd asking people to dial 180 (the number of the electric company) to demand that officials turn the electricity on, which has been turned off to prevent Raffi from addressing his supporters. I take my phone out to dial when all of a sudden I hear Raffi beginning his speech. Someone has turned the electricity on.
He speaks for about 45 minutes, he tells us about his trip to the north of the country, he informs us that the next two days he will be traveling to the south of the country, making his way to Goris and that on February 28, we will all gather once again in Liberty Square. No one else speaks, there is no vision articulated, no strategy, no game plan. A man standing behind me, who has driven here from Artashat says, I drove all this way to hear his schedule? Is this it? Raffi tells the crowd that he and his family and his supporters are going to walk to Yerablur and whoever wanted could join him. The crowd begins to disperse, Raffi, his family and supporters start walking toward Yerablur, where the martyrs from the Karabakh war are buried.
I walk away slightly stunned, slightly deflated. The euphoria we had felt two days ago begins to dissipate and I worry that without a clearly defined vision, this movement may die in its infancy. We meet up with friends, sit around and wonder what is happening. Does he have a team of strategists, does he know where he’s going to take this movement? Is he going to be able to keep up the pressure? What will his demands be? Is he going to demand Sarkisian’s resignation, call for new presidential or parliamentary elections? Is he going to give some context to the Barevolution? Is he forging alliances with other sectors of society, is he going to mobilize more people. It’s a great idea to go to the regions of the country, but what message is he taking? Sometimes he looks like a deer caught in the headlights, surprised and unsure of how it is that he has come to be in this position.
We all want so desperately to believe that change will come. Many of us are not naïve, we realize that Serzh Sarkisian is not going to back down, we understand that this movement is not about Raffi Hovannisian or the presidency, it’s about ensuring fundamental change, about the will and rule of the people, it’s about transparency and accountability, it’s about the rule of law, about social cohesion and justice, equality, it’s about our future.
I hope that different political forces, civil society organizations, students and people will rally around this movement. I hope that our people will continue to stand strong and firm. I hope that we all understand what is at stake and I hope that Raffi can visualize and articulate a vision around which we will unite. Time will tell.