04/25/2018, 10.51
ARMENIA-RUSSIA
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Nikol Pashinyan, the 'Forrest Gump' of Yerevan and the Kremlin's concerns

by Vladimir Rozanskij

With a non-violent demonstration that gradually attracted the entire population, the leader of the small Elk party has brought down Sargsyan's  designs on a lifetime of power. Putin's embarrassing silence.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The victory of the Armenian people’s protest has exalted the figure of Nikol Pashinyan (photo 1, left), affectionately known as the "Forrest Gump" of Armenia, having started his protest with an almost solitary march, hundreds of kilometers from the capital. Now many are wondering what the consequences will be for the country, but also for its neighbors, starting with Russia. The resignation of Sargsyan, Putin's president-prime minister, suggests that perhaps even the Russians themselves might want to change after so many years of almost absolute power.

Protests are not a rarity in Armenia, a country that has always been on the verge of crisis and catastrophe, with a traditionally rather bloody population. Already in 2008 tens of thousands of people had expressed their dissatisfaction with the election of Sargsyan as president, against former president Ter Petrosyan who was in opposition; the revolt had ended with dozens of dead and hundreds of arrests. At the next round in 2013, Sargsyan defeated the candidate Raffi Ovannisyan, ephemeral bearer of the "health revolution". Two years later the protests raged on the streets over increases in electricity bills, until the "velvet revolution" of the past few days.

The "Elk" Party member of parliament  Pashinyan wanted to translate the very title of his movement("My step") into a real experience, setting out on March 31 last on a march that crossed all of Armenia, from Gjumri to Yerevan. A small group started with him, which from village to village gathered the participation of the entire population, until it occupied the center of the capital on April 17, the day of the election of Sargsyan as prime minister (photo 2). The forms of the protest were absolutely peaceful and creative, from sit-ins to blocking traffic, laying across car bonnets (photo 3). Women and the elderly from all walks of life joined the groups of young and very young, crossing the streets on foot only when the red light came on; the blocked motorists soon joined the protest with the continuous sound of their horns. The boys and girls improvised dancing and singing, with the crowd protecting them from the police.

At the end "Serž" (Sargsyan) went out into the square to meet "Nikol" (Pashinyan), Saturday, April 21st. The two then participated in a two-way dialogue the next morning in front of the cameras at the Marriott hotel in Yerevan, and on Monday the new premier resigned. Pashinyan made many accusations, the most striking one that Serž agreed with Aliev, the president of the hated Azerbaijan, in 2016 on the orders of Putin, to hand over part of the disputed land of Karabakh to the Azerbaijan. After a brief phase of provisional government, new elections are expected, in which the "backpacker" opponent will have his chances to complete the sensational change of regime.

Russian politicians, beginning with President Putin, have made no comment on the Armenian affairs, except to point out that these are "internal issues of a sovereign state". In fact, in the protests there has been no talk of foreign policy, Russia or Europe, as happened in the past years in Georgia or the Maidan in Kiev. The protesters themselves refused to be approached by the Ukrainians in 2013, and the "enemy" Sargsyan, although resigned, remains president of the Republican Party and will continue to play a leading role in Armenian politics. Armenia is a historical ally of Russia, historical protector of the Armenian people in the face of the genocides of the Turks, and this alliance will hardly be challenged by the new rulers.

Putin had warmly greeted Sargsyan, congratulating him on his election, and now his embarrassed silence attests to some concern from the Kremlin. Armenia is a significant economic partner for Russia, and the breakthrough could still lead the country to a more western orientation, creating problems for Russian relations with the entire Caucasian region and also influencing relations with Ukraine.

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