Armenia protests

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Mike Harman
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Apr 23 2018 09:21
Armenia protests

Coming up to two weeks of protests in Armenia. The president for ten years did some constitutional adjustment at the end of their term and has been re-elected as prime-minister.

All the mainstream coverage is simply calling this 'opposition protests' - mostly it looks like mass rallies but have been trying to keep an eye on it:

- there have been protests outside the capital too: https://twitter.com/evn_report/status/988320103853887488
- students are striking as well https://twitter.com/evn_report/status/988310163848343552

Mass rally from yesterday: https://twitter.com/evn_report/status/988114683323453440

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Entdinglichung
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Apr 23 2018 20:16

According to informations by an Armenian Trotskyist living in Germany: Seems that the Armenian PM has stepped down today after 100000 people (in a country of 3 million inhabitants) rallied despite an outright ban yesterday on the central square in the capital Yerevan with loads of soldiers from the capital's barracks (Armenia still has a conscript army) joining the protests. Superficially, the protests were directed against former president and now prime minister Serzh Sargsyan who is "doing the Putin" by becoming the PM after not being constitutionally able to run for a 3rd period, but it can be considered to be a general protest against a repressive and corrupt political elite and against poverty. In a way the initiator of the protest is Nikol Paschinyan, a kind of maverick liberal MP calling for mass civic disobediance and a velvet revolution which paralyzes the government and for the installation of people's power. A big role was played by students in the protests.

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R Totale
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Apr 26 2018 14:14

FWIW, this is about the movement of 30 years ago, but I've seen it recommended by an Armenian (whose take on the general situation is pretty downbeat) as having a lot of parallels to the movement today: www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/1988

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Entdinglichung
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Apr 26 2018 19:43

http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article44204

Quote:
Social Origins of Armenia’s Ruling Class and Protest Movement

Thursday 26 April 2018, by CHETERIAN Vicken

In order to explain the social dimension of the protest movement, and what kind of change Armenia needs I will first start by the social and ideological basis of the ruling class in Armenia, then review the social composition of past protest movements, before concluding on the social base of the current dissenting movement.

The miscalculation of Serzh Sargsyan and manipulating constitutional changes back in December 2015 in order to stay in power for a third term and more has backfired and ignited popular anger. This was an innovation in Armenia’s politics as neither the first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, nor the second President Robert Kocharyan – in spite of their own shortcomings regarding democracy and rule of law – had not dared to claim a third term. Probably Sargsyan and his associates in the ruling Republican Party did not think in relation with Armenia’s political tradition, but observed more closely what was happening elsewhere in post-Soviet republics. For example in Russia, after serving two terms, Vladimir Putin had become prime minister during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev only to return to the presidency once again. This “castling” game provoked demonstrations in 2012 in Moscow and Petersburg, but eventually the protest wave disappeared while Putin is still in power. Armenia’s ruling circles hoped for the same. Indeed in the initial days of the protest demonstrations were limited in number, and mobilized urban middle classes, students and the intelligentsia. But on Sunday April 22 the massive demonstration in Yerevan but also in the provinces – over 100’000 people in Yerevan alone – showed that discontent was broader than the what we had seen in the last years in Armenia, that working class, and provincial and agricultural areas were also concerned.

In order to explain the social dimension of the protest movement, and what kind of change Armenia needs I will first start by the social and ideological basis of the ruling class in Armenia, then review the social composition of past protest movements, before concluding on the social base of the current dissenting movement.

Post-Soviet ruling class has multiple social origins. The Soviet-era nomenklatura had huge contradictions compared to the hegemonic capitalists in the West: while the Soviet nomenklatura had immense political power, it enjoyed only limited material privileges. In the collapse of the Soviet system this social cast aimed at transforming its political hegemony to economic privileges through mass privatization, but since the nomenklatura was largely demoralized it could not do it alone: Soviet and East European intelligentsia entered into an alliance for this massive transfer of wealth from state monopoly to private hands. Ideologically, the Soviet collapse discredited the idea of socialism, and the only surviving model was Western Capitalism, which, in the 1980’s, had taken a radical, neo-liberal turn under Reagan and Thatcher. Those two movements together – discredit of the idea of socialism and the radicalization of capitalism towards neo-liberal positions – largely dictated post-Soviet transition.

What concerns Armenia – as Mark Malkasian has argued [1] – two distinct movements with two distinct social backgrounds evolved around the moment of the Soviet collapse. In Armenia the Pan-Armenian National Movement was led by the intelligentsia – Ter-Petrosyan and his comrades were often university professors and writers – while in Karabakh the movement was led by the Communist Party nomenklatura – Kocharyan and Sargsyan were apparatchiks in Karabakh’s administration and members of the Komsomol. It was under Ter-Petrosyan’s rule that the mass privatization of property, land and capital started, as well as electoral manipulation.

As I have argued in the first chapter of my book: From Perestroika to Rainbow Revolutions [2] the whole idea of “transition” was built on a fundamental contradiction: privatization of the economy and democratization of politics. Yet, it was impossible to bring those two changes simultaneously, to privatize the economy and have social dislocation, while at the same time give the right to the people to choose their social and political system. In fact, what happened was that economic transition – privatization – took place at the expense of democratic transition. Mass privatization was fundamentally anti-democratic, since it created mass unemployment and impoverishment, and as a result the idea of democracy was discredited. Western political and economic circles pushed for mass privatization whatever the price, disregarding the democratic will of the populations in the east. This was not just the fault of the West – as Putin administration wants its people to believe – but the result of mass transfer of what was Soviet property into a few hands, that of the old nomenklatura. This mass privatization came with enormous suffering for those left behind: workers, peasants, and all those far from the new power centres. The intelligentsia played a particular role in justifying the property grab, and disregarding the multiple social struggles by workers against privatization of their factories, or demanding their salaries which often was left unpaid for months or even years.

The resignation of Ter-Petrossian and coming to power of Kocharyan reinforced the old Soviet nomenklatura character of the ruling class in Armenia, and weakened the intelligentsia participation in it. Eventually, the ruling Republicans evolved to resemble the Soviet ruling cast, extensively reliant on the state bureaucracy. The Republican Party replaced the old Communist Party in representing party-state fusion. The Armenian ruling class under Kocharyan-Sargsyan had another particularity – which neighbouring Azerbaijan or Georgia did not have – is the Karabakh war dimension, and the feeling of entitlement as “war heroes”. This made the risk using force to preserve political power a real danger, as shows the events of March 1, 2008, when police opened fire on opposition demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud, killing 8 protestors.

Armenian ruling class, just like most post-Soviets ruling classes, are peripheral groups in global capitalist economy. The rapid privatization, monetization, and consumerization of what were Soviet-style economies, and the uncertain conditions of the new property owners, led the neo-capitalists to abandon industrial production and any long-term investments, in favour of short-term transactions and financial accumulation. Most Soviet industrial complexes were not transformed but abandoned, and the new classes accumulate profit based on raw material exports, consumer product imports, speculation in real-estate development, and tax evasion. This is not only the case of Russia or Azerbaijan, but also Armenia’s economy is based on the same model: In 2017 a third of all exports of Armenia came from mining, a sector that pays no taxes to the state budget. Such a class has no interest in developing industrial production, a precondition to solve social problems such as unemployment and migration.
Social Nature of the Protest Movement

In Armenia, in 1987, the first popular mobilization was around ecological issues – for example demonstrations in front of Nairit factory because of pollution. This movement was overtaken a year later by the emergence of the Karabakh Movement, the anti-Soviet struggle, and later the war in Karabakh. In the 1990’s both the rulers in Armenia and opposition were issued from the Karabakh Movement, for example Vazgen Manukyan against Ter-Petrossyan in 1996. A decade later a new social movement started which was urban, educated, often protesting against the destruction of parks in Yerevan and against the exploitation of mineral resources by causing enormous pollution. This movement had roots not only in the 1987 movement, but also in dissidence under the Soviets (mobilization to save Lake Sevan from planned destruction). The new social movement also made the link between environmental degradation, destruction of urban parks, with the systemic corruption of the state administration and the rapacious capitalism of the ruling classes. It linked environmental problems with the political system of the oligarchy. This new generation of urban intelligentsia were protesting because of two reasons: first, they were left out of power by the new oligarchy-state bureaucracy alliance. Second, because the oligarchic system and its primitive economy based on monopoly on imports and exporting eaw materials suffocated the development potential of the intelligentsia, modern, high-tech, and globalizing. The attempted come-back of Ter-Petrosyan to political scene in 2008, and his defeat, left the field open for this social group to develop a new leadership, namely through such figures as Nikol Pashinyan, a former opposition newspaper editor.

On April 17, the nomination of the parliamentary group of the ruling party Serzh Sargsyan to the post of prime minister ignited protests in Yerevan. It was initiated by Yelk opposition party, and was largely composed of students and urban intelligentsia. Yet, few days later the social movement grew so that on Sunday April 22 it reached over 100’000 people, a critical mass that cannot be easily repressed. On Monday, army units in uniform but unarmed joined the demonstrations, forcing Sargsyan to resign the same day. Similarly, demonstrations took place in a number of localities, towns and provinces outside the capital. Without this massive participation change would have failed. This means two things: that popular masses – workers, peasants, unemployed, etc. – are deeply frustrated by the hegemony of the oligarchs, embodied by the rule of Sargsyan and the Republican Party. But also that they have faith in the opposition and the urban intelligentsia that it could bring change, a radical transformation of not only the political representation, but also the economic model of the country.

As Armenia’s Velvet Revolution continues to develop, it is necessary to debate about its future choices. Will the intelligentsia return the favour to the popular masses? In the last wave of Colour Revolutions, the intelligentsia largely disappointed the population. The best example is Georgian Rose Revolution of 2003: Saakashvili could not succeed to overthrow Shevardnadze administration without wider popular support. Yet, once in power, he embarked in a neo-liberal type of state building, provoking popular discontent expressed in the 2007 anti-Saakashvili demonstrations.

It was time for a generational change in Armenia; for a quarter of a century figures that emerged during the Karabakh Movement of the late 1980’s continued to monopolize power. Yet, only change in political representation will not be enough to satisfy popular expectations, and bring some stability to the country. There is a need to radical shift in the ideological framework, abandon principles of neo-liberal capitalism, impose taxation over the oligarchs – and why not collect tax arrears that were not paid for many years – and redistribute this capital by investing to generate economic activity in provincial towns and rural areas. Only then will the larger segments of the population start becoming interested in electoral democracy.

Vicken Cheterian
P.S.

* April 26, 2018 09:46:
http://www.mediamax.am/en/column/12832/

* Vicken Cheterian is a Swiss-Lebanese historian, journalist and author.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/gha-ra-bagh

[2] https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/from-perestroika-to-rainbow-revolut...

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Entdinglichung
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Apr 30 2018 08:48

by the guy I mentioned above:

http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article5481

Quote:
“A mass movement the country never has seen before”

Monday 30 April 2018, by Hovhannes Gevorkian

A mass movement in Armenia pushed out the Prime Minister and former president Serj Sargsyan. Even if liberal currents are trying to channel the movement and gain electoral support, this event could also be a positive move for the oppressed youth and the working class in the country. LeftEast interviewed Hovhannes Gevorkian, an Armenian student of Law in Berlin and member of the Revolutionären Internationalistischen Organisation (RIO) of Germany. The interview was conducted by Philippe Alcoy (PA).

PA: How did the movement start? Is it the first time that people demonstrate against the government?

The movement started at 13th of April when the first actions of civil disobedience began. Prior to that, opposition leader Nikol Paschinyan made a protest walk through Armenia. Back in the capital, Yerevan, the opposition began with protests against the election of former President Serj Sargsyan as Prime Minister scheduled in a parliamentary vote on 17th April. It was the youth who started to block the streets with peaceful means as they didn’t want the election to take place. Students tried to occupy the university but the police forces were too strong. With the help of massive police force, the protesting masses couldn’t prevent the vote in the parliament but the protests grew bigger and bigger, nevertheless.

Armenia is a country that has always had big economic problems together with a corrupt political class, and also has a history of protest. In 2008, people protested against the fraudulent election of Serj Sargsyan as President. At its peak, over 150,000 demonstrated in Yerevan. Back then, the struggles were much more violent and on the 1st of March of that year the repressive forces (including Russian special forces) shot at the protestors with live ammunition. At these events — in Armenia simply referred as “1st March” — ten people died.

Another interesting movement was the largely youth protest against the hike of electricity prices in 2015. At that time, people also blocked and occupied streets and places. This protest was peaceful but showed once again the dissatisfaction with the government and the ruling Armenian Republican Party (ARP).

What are the social forces driving the movement?

Clearly the youth, but also women, who take a large part in the protest, although unfortunately with weaker representation. The students are very active and a bastion of the movement. It’s my generation, born after the collapse of the USSR and only knowing the bourgeois republic. It’s the generation who has no prospects in the country, the generation who is leaving the country whether to study or to work in other countries.

But we also have to take into account that, due to the hatred against the oligarchs, other parts of the population are taking part. It’s a mass movement the country never has seen before.

There are liberal political forces in the movement, what is their real influence?

The dramatic meeting between Serj Sargsyan and Nikola Paschinyan after which the former resigned. Note Paschinyan’s shirt, hi bandaged hand, the cap and the rucksack. Courtesy to Hybridtechcar.com.

They have a big influence, as the charismatic leader of the movement is Nikol Paschinyan, who is himself a liberal. You may have heard his name for the first time in the recent days but he’s not an unknown political figure in Armenia. Basically, he is a pupil of former and first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who ruled the country from 1991 to 1998. Ter-Petrosyan was responsible for all the privatisations of industry and the rapid rise of the oligarchs. He himself had to step down because of mass protests in 1998, as he was willing to negotiate with Azerbaijan over a possible Armenian retreat from Nagorno-Karabakh.

In 2008 it was once again Ter-Petrosyan who challenged Serj Sargsyan in the presidental elections. After the 1st of March and the imposition of the state of emergency (with a ban of strikes, demonstrations, media censorship and much more) Ter-Petrosyan was put under house arrest. Through all that, Nikol Paschinyan was his protege. In 2008 he had a much more militant agenda: “We will fight until the end!”. Nikol and the other leaders of the opposition had to hide until they turned themselves to the police in June 2009. Nikol was then accused of murder and mass disorder. He would spend the next two years in prison.

Since then, he has learned a lot. Over are the days of the serious politician Nikol Paschinyan, who was just dressed just like others politicians. Nowadays you see him as an activist, marching all the day with a megaphone through the streets. His political agenda remained nearly the same, as he is a liberal and a MP for the liberal coalition ”Yelk”. It’s a formation of petty bourgeois businessmen but Nikol is able to represent himself as an activist just like the students.

Because it’s a democratic movement, his demands are for free and fair elections, and his rejection of Serj and his party, he is very popular. He’s always addressing the people and tries to present himself as transparent and anti-corrupt. In this regard he is very open and always calls for open talks. That’s also the reason why we saw public talks with him and Serj or President Armen Sargsyan.

What is the situation of the working class and of the youth in Armenia today?

Both live under terrible conditions. The official unemployment rate is 20 per cent; jobs are rare. There is no prospect for the youth because the economy in Armenia is very bad. There are many poor people in Armenia who are suffering, as industry was almost completely destroyed in the 90s. Armenia as a former Soviet Republic had a working class which was well organized and had trade unions. The trade unions still exist but they are very weak and the working class is fragmented.

Nevertheless we have also seen during the political protests strikes at the IT-company Synopsys and the big shopping mall Dalma. In both cases, the workers went on strike and joined the street blockades. The students are well organized and also went on strike. Interestingly Nikol called on the 25th of April for a nationwide labour and student strike, which then didn’t take place because the interim government announced that new elections will be held on 1st of May.

So the prime minister resigned but the movement continues. What are the prospects for it?

The people know that the problem wasn’t just Serj. He himself had a scandalous luxurious life and it was clear that the people hated him. But they also know that he and his party represent the oligarchs. The movement continues and the slogans go on from #RejectSerj to #RejectHHK (Armenian abbreviation for ARP). In very poor semi-colonies like Armenia the democratic movement always has social demands because people not only want to have free elections but also work, higher rents, bread. Earlier this year we saw something similar in our neighbor country Iran.

Now everybody is preparing for the Parliementary elections. It’s possible that other bourgeois parties like Tsarukyan (founded and led by oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan) will support Paschinyan. He himself announced that he and Yelk will take part in the elections. That’s also the reason why now the mobilizations and acts of civil disobedience have stopped. They will now go to the other cities and do their election campaign. Paschinyan has a chance to win but it’s not sure. He is very popular at the moment.

It will be very interesting to see how the elections will go, whether there will be corruption and fraud or not. It seems likely because the whole state apparatus in under the control of the ARP. This party functions also like a mafia body, which is also determined to use criminal methods in order to secure their rule.

Do you want to add something?

I think the mass protests in Armenia with the victory over Serj Sargsyan open a new chapter in the Near and Middle East. In recent years we saw mass protests in Kurdistan, Iran and now in Armenia. In a region that’s very explosive and fragile, the Armenian “Velvet Revolution” (as it is called by Paschinyan and his supporters) showed that victory is possible. We haven’t seen that since the Arab Spring with the overthrow of Ben Ali and Husni Mubarak in Tunisia and Egypt. Since then we also saw that the overthrow of one ruler is not enough and the masses in Armenia will have the same experience.

I do not consider the recent events in Armenia as a revolution because the old capitalist class is still exploiting the country and the working class. There is also no revolutionary party in Armenia — but experiences like this help us to build revolutionary organizations. Victories like this enhance the class consciousness of the protestors. The youth, who made this victory possible, will remember their strength. Other oppressed and exploited masses like the Kurdish people, the Iranian working class but also the sisters and brothers of the Azerbaijani and Georgian working classes will learn from the mass protests. They will, together with the Armenian masses, see that total victory is only possible on an international level.