What is the plan for an endgame?
Getting into a situation without knowing how to get out is a desperate act. The group calling itself Sasna Tsrer must have had some idea as to how this whole scenario would play out. It does not seem too clear, however. The demands are quite clear. But they are also very extreme. Do the members of Sasna Tsrerhonestly expect their demands to be fully met? If not, then how do they imagine this stand-off ending? Do they imagine that ending to be of some benefit to the country, to the people of Armenia?
Maybe I am physically and figuratively at a distance from Erebouni, but it simply does not make full sense to me.
The response to this question is more clear. There is deep, deep frustration in society in Armenia. Serge Sargsian came to power following violence – armed forces of Armenia killed citizens of Armenia on March 1, 2008, and justice in that regard has not been served. Moreover, the economy has not been active or accessible enough to satisfy most people who live in the country. Most significantly, elections have not been free or fair. Members of society do not feel that they have a stake in the state. The psychological and emotional impact of fraudulent elections cannot be underestimated.
As a result, a number of movements have taken place on the streets in recent years, from Mashtots Park to the marshroutka rate protests to Electric Yerevan. These sorts of issues which should – democratically – be debated in parliament and affect the preferences of voters in regularly-held, proper elections, instead find an outlet with a frustrated citizenry blocking avenues and clashing with the police.
But an armed group, storming a police compound? Indeed, this is a very extreme manifestation of that frustration. From what I understand, the people on Khorenatsi Street and Sari Tagh are there to share the sentiments of the members of Sasna Tsrer, to assure that no more violence is carried out. The emphasis on avoiding the term “terrorist” to describe the armed group is very telling. I hope that the authorities are paying attention to those voices on the street.
Where did the voice of the government go?
The authorities are perhaps listening, but one could not have known that for many days since the armed group took over the police compound. It felt so strange, so embarrassing that nobody from Baghramian Avenue or Melik-Adamian Street had any public comments or calls to make in the initial days of the stand-off (except for a few leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation). Why?
Whichever way you look at it, at whatever level, politics in Armenia seems so reactionary, slow to move, oftentimes inconsistent. A good, democratic system has to have components that speak and respond to one another. This current stand-off strongly indicates, if any indication were needed, that the political body of the Republic of Armenia is not in a healthy state.
There are, however, at least two positive take-aways.
One is that there are people out on the street. Yes, raging citizens with poorly-directed energy can do more harm than good, but political apathy is an even worse sign. “People power” blocking roads, hurling childish insults at the police or government officials is silly. However, the fact that there are so many – and so many young people – who take the trouble of going out on the streets and taking a stand is, in general, an encouraging phenomenon.
Secondly, the availability of the media and technology has gone so far in Armenia. It is wonderful to see live streaming of events through a number of different websites. Those who constantly complain about the country should realise that it is only in the minority of the world that such technology exists and is used so effectively – and, in some places where the technology does exist, the government does not allow it to be used or itself manipulates it.
The endgame of the stand-off remains unclear. However, it finishes, it would be surprising were this the final example of the people taking to the streets in Armenia to express the sort of frustration that should be expressed at the ballot box.