“What we have in Armenia is a fantastically working revolution,” said Armen Grigoryan, one of the leaders of the “Reject Serzh“ movement, organising Armenia’s ongoing nation-wide protests. EURACTIV.sk reports.
Armen Grigoryan is one of the leaders of the“Reject Serzh“ civic initiative, the Armenian movement that stands behind the organisation of protests against the Prime Minister and former President Serzh Sargsyan. In 2015, Grigoryan was involved in organising protests against the constitutional reforms proposed by the Armenian government, which ensured Sargsyan’s stay in power after his term as President would come to an end in 2018.
EURACTIV Slovakia’s Lucia Yar talked to Grigoryan three days after he was released from police detention. Grigoryan, several other civic and opposition leaders, as well as Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of opposition party Way Out Alliance, were taken into custody hours after Pashinyan’s meeting with Sargsyan. A day after, a massive demonstration took place in the streets of Yerevan and as a result, Sargsyan stepped down.
How are you feeling now, after being released, especially after being involved in a movement that has finally succeeded?
I feel very inspired. The detention was not as difficult, and I was certain that I would be released. I was also certain that we would win this battle.
How did you end up in police custody?
The new Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan called for negotiations and as I am one of the organisers of the protests and consider him a liar, I refused to discuss. As a result, they detained me along with other leaders, who were arrested on the same or on the next day. Overall, police treated us very respectfully, but they cut all my connections to the public. At times, they did not even let me contact my lawyer.
Was with #YerevanProtests organizer Armen Grigoryan at Segafredo on Amiryan St when police & masked men burst in and detained him. They took him away in a white unmarked marshrutka pic.twitter.com/5d54hVFxvZ
— Karena Avedissian (@KarenaAv) April 21, 2018
Your civil society engagement clearly led to that detention. How did the movement gain such power to threaten the rulers?
Political parties in Armenia are active and represented by their initiatives. As a civil society, we have started our own initiative. At some point, we joined and started to call ourselves “Reject Serzh“. Our first march in early April involved about 150 people, it then grew to approximately 750 people. Later, with the “My Step” movement led by Nikol Pashinyan, we coordinated a 7 000-people demonstration, which turned into what we have today.
According to you, what was the last straw that led to people taking to the streets?
He (Serzh Sargsyan) was the one to increase that “protest spirit”. Armenia’s external debt reached over $5 billion; there are over one million people living in poverty in the country; he didn’t play well in foreign politics; he even privatised the presidential residence. One of the last breaking points was when Nikol Pashinyan came to Yerevan.
There were also several actions led by the movement which convinced the public. One day we marched to Yerevan State University and called on students to join our march. Another day we went to the state radio and demanded to speak to the public, this had a great impact. Even the public radio director informed us that very few people would be listening at that time, it was rather symbolic to us.
Police used force and detained us, and many people claimed that after this, they were even more convinced to take to the streets. The biggest demonstration happened when around 15 protest leader were arrested on 22 April, 160,000 people took part in that demonstration.
How did the demonstration leaders cooperate?
It has been a very decentralised leadership involvement. Sometimes we personally decided to go ahead, as there was no time to discuss with each other. Way too many things happened, so we had to make decisions ourselves.
One of the most important tools we had was peaceful demonstrations, which worked great in both ways. People had power, they managed to block roads and took the responsibility. Even my own lawyer couldn’t reach me once the road was closed. She asked the local protest leader to let her get through to meet me but they refused, saying that the road is closed for everybody. People really gained power and changed the regime.
When did you hear about Sargsyan´s decision to step down?
The morning (after the arrest) I was brought to the special investigation committee for questioning and I was considered a criminal, an activist.
I read about Sargsyan´s decision on my lawyer´s phone, which she showed me, someone had just written about it online. I showed the message to the investigator who was questioning me, and his face changed, and I told him: “Listen, don’t t do this anymore”. He took around ten minutes to check other sources and after that, he completely changed.
— Sedrak Mkrtchyan (@517design) April 24, 2018
Will Sargsyan resume his political activity? As we have seen in some central European countries, for example, many stay behind. Armenia held its last general election a bit over a year ago. Won´t he become a mastermind behind the scene?
It would be very difficult to lead behind the scene, that is why he tried everything to stay in power. In Armenia, the institutions remain strong, not like in Poland, for example, where you do not need to be in state institutions to have power.
People have asked for snap elections. We ask for an interim government which would be led by representatives of the people. This interim government would have three fundamental aims: to change the electoral code, to change the central election committee and the law about political parties.
Realistically speaking, are those going to happen?
We are certain they are. There are still a lot of people on the streets and there is a huge hope in the society. The current government will not be able to meet society’s expectations. The strongest figure (Serzh Sargsyan) resigned, and others won’t be able to resist this movement.
Will Nikol Pashiyan become the next Prime Minister?
Most probably, but the point is that we want to have free elections. Our aim is to democratise Armenia, to ensure that institutions sustain the democracy that will come along in the future. There is always a probability that a government can be corrupt, and we want to make sure that the institutions are there to lead to polls.
We know that we cannot simply come and change everything from scratch, we first need to change the rules of the game.
Pashinyan had already met with EU representatives, as well as with the Russian ambassador. What role did international actors play and will play now?
It’s important to make it clear that our revolution was only an internal issue, we didn’t allow any international actors to get involved or to support either side. The EU, the Russians, the West, were all interested but we kept the foreign affairs agenda away.
Many claim that with Sargsyan’s departure, Putin is losing an important ally in another post-Soviet country.
No, I am sure that once we become a democratic country, we will have better relations with the EU, Russia, France or Americans.
Will the partnership with the European Union remain at the top of the agenda after the revolution succeeds?
Not only with the EU, but also with the Western countries and Russia – our relations will become better in general. Once there is a democratic government and the public to support it, it will be easier to conduct transparent foreign relations. It will be more of a complementary policy, as we think that international actors will be our strong partners in the democratisation of the country.
What will happen over the next few days?
Over the next few days we will keep protesting as we believe that not all governmental figures are getting the public demands. For instance, until Wednesday (April 25), Karapetyan (the acting prime minister) was claiming to keep the power.
Yesterday´s demonstrations showed him that we are still here. At night there was a call for protests and in the morning the roads were already closed. We remain peaceful and this is very important. Even if the police beat us, we won’t seek revenge.