Armenian struggle for change
The resignation of the newly appointed Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan on April 23 after 11 days of mass demonstrations by the public have briefly brought back the sparkle of colored revolutions of the early 2000s to the Caucasus.
The situation could not be more different.
The Armenians took to the streets on April 13 to “reject Serzh” as the decade-long Sargsyan rule has brought nothing to the country than the deterioration of economy, increased corruption, strengthening of the oligarchs, and further Russian domination. The protests started before Mr. Sargsyan had actually been elected to his new empowered post as prime minister by the Armenian National Assembly on April 17.
The fact that he was in or close to power in one way or another even before Armenia became independent, first serving as the member of the Supreme Council of Armenia in 1990, then being a part of the government in various ministerial roles since 1993, and finally becoming prime minister on April 4, 2007 and president on April 9, 2008, explains why the protestors connect him with most of their grievances.
His resume clearly shows his push for change in the Armenian political system from a presidential to parliamentary one was not motivated by his desire to move his country towards a greater democracy, as he had explained, but to prolong his grip on it. As predicted by many, he broke his promise not to seek the premiership when the constitutional revision was discussed in the country, and became prime minister eight days after he resigned from the now largely ceremonial post of president.
It is clearly the Putin-Medvedev model in Russia of changing posts inspired him to alter the system to prolong his stay in power. Although some have argued he had not been willing to extend his stay but was bound by duty by his wider political clan of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, the end result was the same for ordinary Armenians. Thus, what started as street protests in Yerevan by the opposition parties to register their displeasure for the country’s economic problems, corruption, and monopolistic control of economy and politics by the oligarchs, quickly turned into a massive rally with the participation of other groups and finally, unarmed Armenian soldiers.
It seems that Sargsyan, who has had a bad reputation in dealing with public unrest and has dispersed them with the use of force with casualties more than once, could not resist the popular demand this time and resigned suddenly, although no one expected such a quiet step down from him.
As Armenia is a key Russian ally in the Caucasus, one that has been thoroughly penetrated by it, all eyes were on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin since the outbreak of the protests. Many still vividly remember the Kremlin’s reaction to similar protests in Ukraine in 2014, following the Russian intervention and then the annexation of Crimea. So far, Russia has kept quiet, accepting the resignation and announcing it would not become involved in Armenia’s internal politics.
The fact that the current acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan is an old ally of Sargsyan and thus, is part of the governing group explains Russia’s current aloofness. Should the developments in Armenia in coming days prove too much for the governing clique to cling onto power and real change could be triggered in the country if public protests are successful, entailing a possible break with the dominance of Russia and its oligarchs on Armenia, then the Kremlin’s stance might differ as well.
Since the protesters have already tasted success by forcing Sargsyan’s resignation, it is not clear whether they would accept a change that would meet them halfway or force a real one. We will see in the upcoming days…