Electric Yerevan: Outcomes and lessons of two-week-long ‘non-political’ protests

While protests against electricity price hikes still continue in Yerevan, their current magnitude is nowhere near the one that was present some two weeks ago when rallies in the capital’s Baghramyan Avenue gathered up to 10,000 people.

The nonstop demonstrations in the central city boulevard that blocked its traffic and kept a considerable police force mobilized for days were discontinued with police intervention on Monday and the remaining protesters shifted their actions to nearby Liberty Square where leaders of the campaign hope to regroup and keep up their protests alive.

The pause in active street protests symbolizes a stage where the society goes from the barricade struggle to the formulation of goals and objectives, as well as a stage of summarizing the intermediate outcomes of the struggle.

While for some the tangible outcome of the two-week-long campaign may be the fact that the government has agreed to subsidize the electricity price rise from August 1 pending an international audit of the Russian-owned company that runs Armenia’s power grid, for others it may not be so obvious as they seek a total cancellation of the decision by the tariff-setting commission.

Yet, there are some things that the Baghramyan Avenue protest has managed to achieve and change in the country that has not seen similar social protests for many years.

The first obvious thing is that the international community paid particular attention to the Yerevan protests, which reveals that the world would want to see a change in Armenian attitudes towards the current geopolitical status quo. The world press covered the actions in Yerevan so actively that the impression was that someone abroad was more interested in them than people in Armenia itself. Yet, the more important achievement is that the Armenian society has declared that it is alive and that it is ready to pursue its rights also in the streets.

The second outcome is hardly an achievement, because it became clear that there are also forces that can control the social movements and give instructions to the crowd of thousands. It is difficult to say who these forces are, but the fact that at the rallies there were no calls for a change of government, no accusations against Russia, no appeals for diversifying Armenia’s foreign policy that currently heavily depends on Russia’s shows that someone has been setting the limits. The protesters in Baghramyan Avenue even tore the flag of the European Union that was brought to the venue by Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikyan, and that also appeared to be an “instruction”.

In reality, the process appeared to be “controlled”, and someone instead of the protesters even determined the slogans and appeals. It is no accident that perhaps the main “achievement” of the protest actions was the fact that almost all – from government officials to protesters – during those days considered it to be their duty to declare that no anti-Russian Maidans can happen in Armenia and that Armenia will forever be friends with Russia.

Another result is the restoration of relations between the authorities of Armenia and Russia that have been quite strained during the past two years. Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan finally was able to speak by phone with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and arrange a meeting with him in Moscow on July 8.

The Armenian society is yet unwilling or unable to acknowledge that important political decisions have become the main result of its “non-political” social struggle: the transfer of the investigation of a Gyumri family murder blamed on a Russian soldier to Armenian jurisdiction and Moscow’s giving Armenia a $200- million loan for the purchase of Russian weapons. As for the “social” aspect regarding electricity price hikes the authorities have taken a “time-out” in the form of an audit of the electricity distribution networks.