Armenia’s Opposition, Blocked in Parliament, Raises Pressure in the Streets


Russia, which maintains a military base in Armenia, has called the protests an internal affair, with President Vladimir V. Putin urging all sides to resolve their differences legally. The Kremlin shows no signs of planning to interfere militarily, as it did after similar upheavals in Ukraine and Georgia.

On Tuesday, members of the Republican Party repeatedly belittled Mr. Pashinyan, a 42-year-old former journalist, as unfit for the job of prime minister. They suggested he did not have the experience required to run the military, with one saying mockingly that it required more than his standard attire of a camouflage T-shirt. Others clearly found galling the idea that he was trying to leverage the threat of further street protests to push them into voting for him as prime minister.

Many members called for further dialogue and negotiation with Mr. Pashinyan, so there were different theories about the strategy behind the stance of the Republican Party, whose members have held a virtual monopoly over political and economic power in Armenia since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

First, Mr. Pashinyan most likely worried members of the elite with his vow to dismantle political and economic monopolies, prompting them to seek negotiated guarantees before making him prime minister next week. Rejecting him put them in a better bargaining position.

Second, party members might reject him again on Tuesday, figuring that even with their prospects damaged by the protests, they might as well take their chances in snap elections while they are still in power and in control of the electoral process.

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Protesters used vehicles and trash dumpsters to block streets in the capital.

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Sergei Grits/Associated Press

The party did not put forward Karen Karapetyan, the acting prime minister and a Sargsyan ally, as a candidate for prime minister. Mr. Pashinyan was the only nominee, but anyone who garners support from one-third of lawmakers in Parliament can run next week. That opens the path for all kinds of bargaining and horse-trading among political factions.

Mr. Pashinyan vowed to keep up the pressure by taking the showdown to the streets. He has called for demonstrations every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Wednesday protesters spread across Yerevan, with people blocking not just roads but also the subway, universities, schools and government institutions. A group of lawyers blocked the entrance to the Ministry of Justice with three cars, according to local news reports. Workers at the airport also joined the strike, although Mr. Pashinyan urged them to return to work to avoid inconveniencing international travelers.

One resident walking to work in the early morning described Yerevan as a city on “lockdown,” although offices and shops were still operating.

Protesters roaming the city to the beat of drums and flutes occasionally broke into chants like “Nikol — Victory!” Pictures from around the country showed that the general strike was attracting support in other large cities and villages, too.

“The Republicans are already ‘feeling the heat’ and sensing the pressure in general,” but they will not concede right away, said Mr. Giragosian, the analyst, answering questions on Twitter. “With six days until the second ballot for interim premier, there is ample time for them to back down and or cut deals individually, but each passing day will test their resolve to stand firm.”

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‘I Was Wrong’: Armenian Leader Quits Amid Protests


Thousands of incensed Armenians, most of them young, swarmed through Republic Square starting on April 13. The protests gradually spread to other major cities in the tiny southern Caucasus nation, including Gyumri and Vanadzor.

The pressure on Mr. Sargsyan, 63, to resign ratcheted up markedly on Monday after soldiers from one company of the country’s prestigious peacekeeping force, which had served abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, joined the march in Yerevan in their uniforms.

“All the momentum was with the street,” said Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus region at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

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Serzh Sargsyan, left, the longtime president of Armenia who was recently appointed prime minister, met with the opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan on Sunday.

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Vano Shlamov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Tuesday is Armenia’s Genocide Memorial Day, when many of the country’s more than 2.6 million people turn out onto the streets. It was expected to quickly turn into a vast anti-Sargsysan demonstration that would have been unthinkable to suppress by force, said Aleksandr M. Iskandaryan, the director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan.

Mr. Sargsyan had promised last year not to try to extend his tenure in office by becoming prime minister when his presidential term ended.

Karen Karapetyan, who had just left the post of prime minister to make way for Mr. Sargsyan, stepped in as acting prime minister.

The rapid events threw the country into disarray. The new Constitution invests considerable power in the Parliament, and some expected snap elections to be called.

The demonstrations were fueled by a new generation of Armenians disenchanted with the small elite of politicians and their oligarch allies who have long controlled the government and much of the economy, analysts said. The protesters dismissed the standard argument that Armenia needed unvarying leadership to negotiate an end to the conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan and to deal with the tense relations with Turkey on the other side.

“There is a new generation that wants change,” Mr. de Waal said. “The problem is that they do not really have a leader.”

Nikol Pashinyan, the opposition member of Parliament who led the protests, lacks a party and a large constituency.

Mr. Sargsysn agreed to meet with Mr. Pashinyan on Sunday but stormed out of the meeting within minutes, claiming he was being blackmailed. Then Mr. Pashinyan and two of his opposition allies were detained overnight, after scores of demonstrators were also detained. The three opposition leaders figures were released on Monday.

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Armenian students march through the streets of Yerevan on Monday, protesting efforts by the former president to stay in power.

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Vano Shlamov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. de Waal compared the protesters to the professional, urban elite who turned out to protest President Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election in 2012 after he served as prime minister for one term to avoid term limits. Some Armenians even referred to their leader’s maneuver as “pulling a Putin,” Mr. Giragosian of the Regional Studies Center said.

Unlike Armenian leaders, however, Mr. Putin cracked down hard, sending in the riot police and making an example of some protesters with lengthy jail sentences. Any sign of government change through protests, like that in Ukraine, makes the Kremlin jittery, so the protests in Armenia garnered scant attention on Russian state television until Mr. Sargsyan resigned.

Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesman, praised the transition for being peaceful, saying, “Armenia, Russia is always with you!

Armenia, a Soviet state until declaring independence in 1991, remains a close partner of Russia in a volatile region, with a Russian military base at Gyumri. It has been locked for two decades in a low-grade war with Azerbaijan, another former Soviet republic, over control of a disputed enclave called Nagorno-Karabakh. Some Armenians accuse Russia of fueling a new outbreak of the fighting in 2016 by selling arms to both sides.

Azerbaijan has long exploited unrest in Armenia to try to make gains in the conflict, which may be one reason Mr. Sargsyan acted swiftly, analysts said. Beyond that, the start of his presidency in 2008 was marred by street protests in which 10 people were killed and 100 injured — so he was determined to keep the peace this time, they said.

Apart from political and territorial tensions, the country also has suffered from a rocky economy in recent years. Armenia depends heavily on remittances from its diaspora, which grows by some 50,000 people annually, said Andrei G. Areshev, a researcher on the Caucasus at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Armenians working in construction and other manual jobs in Russia were hit hard by the devaluation in the ruble in 2015, but they sent home $1.07 billion last year, according to records from the Central Bank. As prime minister, Mr. Karapetyan had helped the economy grow by fostering a technology sector, among other steps.

Given that most key government officials, including the acting prime minister, are Sargsyan allies, it is unclear that his resignation will bring any immediate change, or what he protesters might do next.

“The government hoped the tide would die down, but the opposite happened,” Mr. Iskandaryan said in Yerevan.

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Armenia Detains 3 Opposition Leaders Amid Protests


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A demonstration in Yerevan, Armenia, on Saturday against the appointment of Serzh Sarksyan, the former president, as prime minister.

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Reuters

YEREVAN, Armenia — The Armenian police detained three opposition leaders on Sunday and dispersed protesters on the 10th day of demonstrations against the appointment of former President Serzh Sarksyan as prime minister, according to officials, opposition politicians and a witness.

The appointment by Parliament on Tuesday of Mr. Sarksyan as prime minister after a 10-year term as president has prompted outrage, prompting tens of thousands of opponents to march through Yerevan, the capital, where they staged sit-ins that blocked the streets.

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Law enforcement officers in Yerevan on Sunday, the 10th day of demonstrations.

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Reuters

The Constitution approved a referendum in 2015 that shifted most of the authority in the small, ex-Soviet state to the prime minister and turned the presidency into a largely ceremonial post.

Prosecutors said the opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan and two other lawmakers had committed “socially dangerous acts,” Agence France-Presse reported, and the police said in a statement that the removal of the protesters had been “guided by law.”

The statement was issued shortly after Mr. Pashinyan held talks with Mr. Sarksyan, who walked out of the meeting after accusing his opponents of trying to “blackmail” the authorities.

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Mr. Sarksyan, left, walked out of a meeting on Sunday with the opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan, right, after accusing his opponents of trying to “blackmail” the authorities. Mr. Pashinyan and two other opposition leaders were detained.

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Vano Shlamov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is not talks, not a dialogue, it’s just an ultimatum, blackmail of the state, of the legitimate authorities,” Mr. Sarksyan said.

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