A peaceful revolt has been unfolding in Armenia over the past two weeks, leading to the resignation of the autocratic prime minister last Monday. swissinfo.ch spoke to a witness who joined the protests in the capital of Yerevan.This content was published on April 28, 2018 - 05:00
“People have woken up from a trance,” says Sona Shaboyan, an Armenian-born pianist who studied in Switzerland and settled here in 2004. She flew back to her country of origin to take part in the pro-democracy, anti-government demonstrations.
The protests have been drawing crowds of several hundred thousand people to the centre of Yerevan.
Shaboyan says she loves music and wine. But equally important for her is the freedom of her family and all her people in Armenia – a nation of 2.9 million residents and a huge expatriate community.
swissinfo.ch: Why are there angry protestors in the streets?
Sona Shaboyan: It is the system, which is corrupt to the core. It has simply become unbearable.
There have been similar situations before, but people were living in a trance, absolutely without any hope that things might one day change for the better.
But they slowly they learned from past mistakes. The resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan came much faster than expected.
swissinfo.ch: Will the protests continue in Yerevan?
S.S.: The demonstrations have turned into a broad public movement, which can’t be stopped anymore. Last Monday, about 700,000 people took to the streets; this is nearly one in three Armenian citizens.
The mass protests are supported by schools and universities, and they will continue. Tens of thousands of people have gathered on the Republic Square in central Yerevan.
It’s not only residents of the capital; they also come here from other cities.
swissinfo.ch: What is the mood like at these rallies?
S.S.: It’s all very well organised; it’s almost unbelievable. What amazes me even more is the fact that there is no aggression, no drunkards around.
It is an atmosphere of unity, full of contagious excitement, harmonious, pulsating. The people want to feel like citizens at last; to no longer to be slaves.
swissinfo.ch: Is this a revolution like in Ukraine, when protestors ousted their president, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2005?
S.S.: It is a major revolt! People celebrate the idea of a renaissance: “My vote counts”. Until now, elections have always been rigged.
This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch.
Suddenly, people have woken up. They know that they can send the corrupt government packing if they stand united and if they are ready to fight for their ideas.
This experience came almost as a shock.
I think it was also a blow for the government. The authorities could never imagine such mass protests. The corrupt system had created zombies that only cared about getting enough to eat. Now the zombies have woken up.
swissinfo.ch: The people in the streets demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sargsyan. Do they also call for more democracy?
S.S.: Absolutely. His resignation was simply the slogan, but they meant the whole system. Sixty percent of the parliamentarians are oligarchs. They are businessmen who run supermarkets, and are not interested in politics.
They must be forced out of the government and parliament so they can do business.
For democracy to be able to grow, the old system has to be rooted out completely.
swissinfo.ch: The armed forces have partly changed sides and joined the protesters. To what extent can the government still try to clamp down on the demonstrations?
S.S.: That’s over. A few days ago, police attacked the protesters in some cases and more than 1,000 people were detained.
At the moment, security forces have virtually disappeared from the scene and stopped intervening. Many policemen have joined the ranks of the protesters in the meantime.
swissinfo.ch: The opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan, wants to take over as prime minister. Who is this man? Will he allow a more democratic Armenia?
S.S.: He is an absolutely credible and trustworthy personality. Pashinyan has been opposition leader for the past 15 years, before he served a two-year prison sentence.
He’s always been very courageous when nobody else dared speak out against the government.
Questions were asked as to why he was able to do that. But he is a man with absolute integrity.
At the age of 43 he is relatively young. He represents a new kind of politician without any ties to the ruling class. It still embodies the old Soviet-style establishment.
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