Soft Revolution in Armenia

Armenia became a scene of a peaceful revolution on April 23. Serzh Sargsyan, the Prime Minister of the country, was forced to resign by people.

Armenia, a close ally of Russia, was ruled by Serzh Sargsyan for ten years. His political choices included a balanced format between the Western countries and Moscow. As a person from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Sargsyan has been an important figure in the Armenian politics. From the early 1990s, he participated in the invasion process of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory, and became a high-rank military officer. His political activities were reinforced after becoming defense minister in Armenia. 

The country has been isolated in the region due to its occupation in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. There is no open border with the two neighbors in the eastern and western sides, Azerbaijan and Turkey respectively. This landlocked country has no choice to follow an alternative policy to surpass this threshold. Thus, the country has tried to formulate a policy direction towards regional organizations and advantageous partnerships.

In 2008, he became the third president of the country during a turbulent series of protests. He followed a new type of foreign policy principle as a balance between the West and Russia. Close negotiations were held with the European Union as well as strong communication with NATO. At the same period, he despairingly accepted to become a member of Russian-oriented Eurasian Economic Union. He tried to shape the foreign policy direction with smart initiatives such as the normalization process with Turkey in 2008 and 2009. On account of the regional political balances and pressures of domestic institutions, he couldn’t manage the process. And he failed.

Before the end of his two terms as president, the country voted for establishment of the parliamentary system in 2015 referendum. According to opposition parties, he aimed to remain as the most powerful man in the country with this system change. Even he refused this criticism, later his party won parliamentary election and he tried to become prime minister right after the end of his presidential term.

Tension rose in the country and opposition parties launched to rally mass protests in the center of Yerevan, the capital city. Some expected Yerevan might turn to become a scene of a bloody clash but over than 150.000 people peacefully protested Sargsyan. Nikol Pashinyan, one of the leading and eminent opposition figures, played an important role during the 10-days-length civil protests. After intensive demands, Sargsyan accepted to meet Pashinyan in front of the media. But Pashinyan was arrested after three minutes of the meeting. This only escalated the situation and negatively affected the Sargsyan’s position. As a response, people took all streets of the capital. Many groups of soldiers also appeared in the protests along with clergymen. After a compelling period of time and severity of protests, finally, Sargsyan declared his resignation with a statement. He said: “Nikol Pashinyan was right, I was wrong. The current situation has several solutions. But I won’t resort to any of those. That’s not for me. I am leaving the position of the head of state.  The street movement is against my rule. I am fulfilling your demand.”

Some analysts expected another version of the Color Revolutions which dramatically shaped country profiles of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in the 2000s, but Armenia realized a ‘soft revolution’ without any tragic incident.

Here a question arises on whether Armenia will have an axis shift or not. The country’s foreign policy rhetoric has been balanced by Serzh Sargsyan and his predecessor Robert Kocharian. The presidents have expressed their sympathies to the EU many times by saying Armenia is a part of the European civilization. But in reality, the country became an adherent element of Russia, especially in the context of economic and military relations. Previously, the Armenian opposition owned a useful tool of anti-Moscow rhetoric while blaming the leadership. But now the same opposition understood the importance of real politics. Even though Russian officials didn’t criticize the situation and obviously supported the public reaction, it doesn’t mean that Moscow will allow Armenia to have an axis shift toward the Western alliance. But at least, Armenia showed the importance of people’s will and exercised a proper way of protest culture.

Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu

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