Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Velvet Revolution, Armenian Style

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Velvet Revolution, Armenian Style

Article excerpt

To understand what happened in Armenia during the five revolutionary weeks in April and early May 2018, we need to appreciate what Armenia represented by this time and against what the protests were directed.

The social construct destroyed by the revolution, explains macrosociologist Georgi Derluguian, "was a provincial-Komsomol restoration. They managed to construct something out of the post-Soviet planks." (1) Before independence, second president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and third president Serzh Sargsyan, who presided over this restoration, had been Communist Party functionaries in Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast, Kocharyan the Party secretary of a factory and Sargsyan a Komsomol leader.

This history evidently influenced the two men's behavior as president. Robert Kocharyan used Soviet-style methods of giving orders, especially at the beginning of his presidential career, and tough methods of suppression throughout his presidency. Allegedly, it was he who was responsible for the death of ten people during protest rallies in 2008 (in July 2018, he was arrested for interrogation in relation to that crime).

For his part, Serzh Sargsyan seems to fit Derluguian's definition even better. His ten-year presidency bore the hallmarks of Brezhnev-era stagnation, due not only to his communist revanchism, but also to his capitalist self-enrichment: his brother became a wealthy businessman renowned for his ability to racketeer any business in Armenia. This corruption was reflected in several jokes, which stated, for instance, that the moon became a half-moon after meeting him, night turned into midnight ("half-night" in Armenian), etc. In effect, Sargsyan was both using the elements of the Soviet bureaucratic system to which he was accustomed and acting in a non-Soviet way. To wit, his electoral campaigns and speeches were organized in a very recognizable late-Soviet manner but used various advanced falsification mechanisms. (2) This combination of Soviet, pseudo-Western, and criminal components might serve as the basis for a dedicated study along the lines of Alexei Yurchak's Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (3): the situation in Armenia was just like the late-Soviet foreverness and even more cheerless, since it was becoming more and more evident that nothing could be changed either constitutionally (elections were masterfully manipulated by those in power) or extra-constitutionally, through armed rebellions (such a failed rebellion in 2016). (4) The foreverness of Serzh Sargsyan and his regime became such an indisputable reality that rumors circulated about his alleged deadly illness almost from the beginning of his rule. The new constitution, generally accepted to have been written for Sargsyan personally, turned the ruling Republican Party that he headed into an "eternally" ruling party in 2017--adding another Soviet feature, a single-party system, to the Armenian landscape. The new constitution turned the presidential republic into a parliamentary republic with a prime minister as the ruling figure. People were actively discussing the idea that Serzh Sargsyan had made these changes in order to remain in power as prime minister, since he was barred from standing for president for a third term. However, Sargsyan denied that he intended to become prime minister, leading people to suspect that he would find a compliant prime minister to rule, while he--as head of the ruling ("single") party--pulled the strings, just like the first secretary of the Communist Party in the USSR. We contend that his mimicking of the Soviet system was neither passive nor unconscious, but a conscious effort to remain in power.

Parallel to this "Soviet" restoration ran the restoration of a more ancient social structure resembling the medieval feudal one. A project that dated back to first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian, it had transformed the 37 regions of the Armenian SSR into 10 provinces with names and boundaries approximating the provinces of medieval Armenia, with an 11th region--the capital, Yerevan--given status equivalent to that of a province. …

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