Serzh Sargsyan was president of Armenia for two terms as head of the ruling Republican Party that ran the country like a feudal lord. Before the end of his second term, Mr. Sargsyan wanted to remain in power so he decided to remodel the constitution and make himself the Prime Minister. Like a few former Heads of State in this region still hungry for power and real estate after their terms are up, Sargsyan followed the power path that backfired in April.
Nikol Pashinyan, a Member of Armenia’s Parliament and veteran opposition leader, became the grassroots force that posed a major challenge to Sargsyan’s new reign. Over the years, Mr. Pashinyan fought many battles with Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party. He is also one of the leaders of the “Yelk” (Way Out) political party alliance.
In April, Mr. Pashinyan spearheaded a nonviolent civil disobedience movement against Serzh Sargsyan’s new reign as Prime Minister of Armenia. In less than two weeks of mass protests, the citizenry of Armenia multiplied into a force to be reckoned with. With Pashinyan’s growing popularity and front line commitment to peaceful civil disobedience, the protests spread across Armenia, triggering waves of citizens flooding into the streets of several cities across the nation.
On April 22, 2018, after a televised meeting with Pashinyan and Sargsyan in front of dozens of news outlets, Pashinyan demanded that Serzh Sargsyan resign from his post as Prime Minister. Sargsyan balked and left the meeting. Two hours later, Pashinyan was arrested illegally. As a result of his sudden arrest, the protests (named the “Velvet Revolution”) grew even bigger in a matter of hours.
The next day was April 23, 2018, the day before the 103rd commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Armenia and throughout Armenian communities worldwide. Pashinyan was released from detention. A few hours later, news came that Serzh Sargsyan had officially resigned. This marked the first major victory of Pashinyan’s Velvet Revolution. We were in Republic Square among the several tens of thousands of Armenian citizens and protesters listening to a member of Pashinyan’s team read Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation letter. The night was electric and indescribable.
The next day was April 24, 2018. Hundreds of thousands walked to Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial to observe the 103rd commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. I was a witness and participant in this remarkable peaceful uprising of open hands, footsteps forward and smiles like I have never seen in my life before in my homeland. The collective masses united to fight for peaceful change, rule of law, human rights and equality for all.
It was a fever and a dream combined in one. Undeniably, it was evident that the country’s citizenry were truly victorious in choosing peaceful disobedience that helped turn a very critical page in history. The citizens of Armenia became the embodiment of strength and collective unity in the name of peace, love, equality and human rights. Nothing like this has happened in the region for a very long time. The images we saw every day left us in warm tears of hope. One of the most unforgettable moments I will never forget witnessing was soldiers uniting with the people arm-in-arm to demand for peaceful and democratic change.
Seeing so many tens of thousands filming the events underscored the irreversible potential of the peaceful citizen in the street with a cell phone camera and a strong social media connection. This is all you need to be heard across the world in real time witnessing and participating in history made in the streets by the people. The smart phone is one the most immediate and greatest tools for activism and engaging international awareness through social media. Facebook is the new CNN. A critical mass with the technology to inform the world can indeed change it. At the forefront of this magnificent peaceful flowering of revolution were the brave, dedicated and completely committed youth. There are no words to trap the emotions that were swelling in the hundreds of thousands.
As Albert Camus beautifully said in The Rebel, ““Become so very free that your whole existence is an act of rebellion.” The youth and citizens of Armenia proved to the world that freedom is not just a state of mind or passé in this ancient and beautiful land rooted in a culture surviving since antiquity. Seeing the passion of the citizenry becoming one unshakeable tidal wave of undeniable collective solidarity was a dream that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. As a student many years ago, I read the books and novels about the old revolutionaries from generations past. To be a part of a peaceful and democratic revolution was my youthful dream. Twenty years later, over a week, that dream came true. My soul was awakened to the peaceful power of my people that waged a grassroots democratic revolution without a single drop of blood.
It is the responsibility of all citizens to stand up and demand that their voices and concerns as citizens be heard. The fact that they did it entirely through nonviolent, peaceful civil disobedience proves again that revolutions can be successful even in this day and age without a single bullet being fired.
There are many uncertainties and hopes in the days and weeks to come. But one thing is for sure. What has happened is irreversible in Armenia. The people have spoken fiercely and humanely. Furthermore, they now know a very prescient and powerful tool for change: complete solidarity in the face of corruption and a feudal political system whose time has come to be abolished.
This was one of the most emotional weeks of my life. One can write a book just based on the past week in Armenia and all of its incredibly prescient and symbolic undertones, especially during the days leading up to, and after the 103rd commemoration of the Genocide. We honored, as we always will, our one and a half million martyrs. We also witnessed the rebirth and survival spirit of the Armenian youth and citizenry that were victorious in starting a new chapter in our peoples’ history. They took the capital city of Yerevan in their arms and united into a critical mass across the country that has given birth now to a new Armenia. Our ancestors and the children of tomorrow were all with us. The face and courage of Armenia will continue to be its passionate, peaceful and deeply dedicated citizen youth. They will continue to grow the seed of peaceful change and prosperity for Armenia’s present and future. The students and youth became my teachers.