Armenian PM Sargsyan steps down as soldiers start to join protesters

Armenian PM Sargsyan steps down as soldiers start to join protesters
By bne IntelliNews April 23, 2018

Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan has bowed to the pressure of the mass protests that have engulfed the capital Yerevan for days and stepped down, a statement posted on his website confirmed on April 23.

The statement conceded that protest leader, Civic Contract party chief Nikol Pashinian "was right. I was wrong". Sargsyan also wrote how there were alternative solutions to addressing the confrontation with protesters but that he had decided he would not resort to them. "I am leaving the post of prime minister," he said. 

Pashinian, meanwhile, was released from his one-day detention and rejoined jubilant supporters mounting protests. Before it became clear that Sargsyan had resigned, Pashinian proceeded to renew his call for the PM to step down and told RFE/RL that he would speak further about his detention at a large rally to be held at 7 p.m. (1500 GMT/UTC) in the capital's central Republic Square.

Massive street protests continued in Yerevan and other large cities in the country on April 23, following a swelling of the crowds over the weekend. Yet what likely tipped the balance for the prime minister — who previously insisted that the country needed him — was the start of defections from the army to join the demonstrations. This meant Sargsyan could no longer count on the military to crush the protests. Sargsyan has been accused of a power grab — after two terms as president he was voted in as the newly powerful prime minister of a reconstituted parliamentary republic of Armenia, but many Armenians were deeply unhappy to see Sargsyan, whose presidential terms were stained by corruption affairs and economic mismanagement in the country, remain at the helm.

Yerevan-based media reported late afternoon that Sargsyan had stepped down. “BREAKING NEWS: SERG SARGSYAN HAS RESIGNED!!!!!” tweeted digital media platform EVN News. The news was also carried by, armenpress and other local news services. 

Tens of thousands of Armenian anti-government demonstrators on the evening of April 22 defied a police warning and reassembled on Yerevan's Republic Square after officers earlier in the day detained protest leader Pashinian shortly after talks between him and Sargsyan got nowhere.

Ten days of demonstrations have taken aim at the appointment of Sargsyan as prime minister of the newly constituted parliamentary republic of Armenia following his two presidential terms which were marked in the eyes of many critics by unreasonable levels of corruption and economic mismanagement in the impoverished nation.

Over the last ten days street protests have been building in the Armenian capital Yerevan, calling for the resignation of Sargsyan. On Sunday the Armenian MP and de facto protest leader Pashinian had a three minute meeting with Sargsyan to present the crowd’s demands. Sargsyan promptly walked out of the meeting on being told by Pashinian that he only wanted to discuss his resignation, and not long after when back on the streets the protest leader was promptly arrested by security forces. As the crowds poured back on to the streets today, tensions were high, raising speculation about a possible colour revolution in Armenia.

Soldiers join the protest

The chances that the protests will turn into a colour revolution also increased when 200 soldiers joined the marchers, suggesting the authorities’ hold on the situation is starting to slip, reported Radio Free Liberty on social media. 

"If you're a leader and soldiers are now joining popular protests against you, your problems just got significantly worse," Rory Challands, CNN correspondent tweeted.

The government confirmed the soldiers who joined the student march in the morning were part of the professional army corp (Blue Berets) and warned that "they will be punished severely."

ARMENIA ANTIGOV PROTESTS APRIL 2018 by @Bunker_watch in Yerevan.jpg 2


Yerevan Armenia protests April 2018

Students immobilise Yerevan 

Meanwhile, groups of students took over and blocked intersections throughout the capital, bringing the city to a standstill. Some young people were seen standing in the way of Yerevan metro train closing doors to prevent metro trains from leaving stations.

"Student march continues in downtown Yerevan. Several major streets shut down by protesters; soldiers joined students; marches in taking place in cities of Gyumri, Ijevan, Ashtarak," tweeted EVN Report. "There are acts of civil disobedience taking place all over Yerevan right now. Intersections are closed, streets r blocked."

Students were closing roads as a way to pressure the government into releasing Pashinian. At the major crossing of the Sevan-Gagarin highway closed by protestors police and state officials tried to reopen the road by negotiating with the demonstrators. 

The chaos spread when the authorities also started blocking roads. The mayor of the city of Massis blocked the highway to Yerevan with 10-15 cars to prevent people from joining the protests in the capital, according to social media reports.


More opposition leaders arrested, then released

Government forces arrested three members of the opposition in all: Pashinian, Sassun Mikayelyan and Ararat Mirzoyan.

Pashinian was arrested on the evening of April 22 and held in jail over night, despite having parliamentary immunity from arrest and prosecution. The other two were arrested in the morning of April 23. But all three were released later the same day on Monday, according to reports. Anxiety had built as officials did not disclose where they were being held.