ARMENIA IN SPRING
May 23, 2018, we organized at the Bildungswerk Heinrich-Böll Berlin a panel discussion on the grassroots protests across Armenia as well as prospects of political change in the Southern Caucasus and beyond in collaboration with the scholars Tamar Khutsishvili (Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena) and Heiko Conrad (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt).
On the eve of the election for the Armenian prime minister, the streets of downtown Yerevan filled with masses of people who launched acts of civil disobedience under the slogan #MerzhirSerzhin (#reject Serzh) to force then Prime Minister Serzh Asati Sargisyan to step down. Sargisyan resigned on April 23, under the pressure of large-scall protests spearheaded by Nikol Pashinyan, leader of a minor opposition party (Kaghakatsiyakan Paymanagir Party). On 08 May, Opposition leader Pashinyan was appointed head of government in his place.
The social upheavals that were taking place in the Republic of Armenia provided important insights on how to deal with the growing number of “illegitimate democracies” globally. The event gave voice to various local NGO activists, political experts and academicians via Skype video interviews including Lusine Kharatyan (formerly dvv international), Diana Yayloyan (METU Ankara) and Smbat Hakobyan (National Institute of Ethnography). Together we not only addressed the difficult domestic and foreign policy conditions of the country and reconstructed the protest movements but also took a glance towards potential futures of the movement and the country.
The urban protest brought not only in Yerevan up to 250,000 people (a fifth of the city’s population) on the street but also spread quickly across the entire country. The often neglected role of the rural population, however, gained media attention as the villagers of Bagratashen blocked and effectively paralyzed the strategically-important Armenian-Georgian border with vehicles.
In the second part of the evening, the anthropologist Tamar Khutsishvili (Caucasus Studies, Schiller University Jena) and the historian Heiko Conrad joined the discussions. Khutsishvili, who intensively researched the socio-political life of village communities in southwestern Armenia during her one-year fieldwork in 2015, complemented the picture of urban protest outlined above with a rare insight into the social world of political dissent and activism in rural areas.