Armenian capital calm after protests end _ but at what cost?
By YURAS KARMANAU and DAVID KEYTON, Associated Press
YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — After weeks of raucous protests, the streets of the Armenian capital suddenly calmed Thursday and the ruling party confirmed it would back an opposition leader to become prime minister next week.
The opposition lawmaker who led the protests in Yerevan, Nikol Pashinian, called for them to stop Thursday following the concession by the ruling party.
But the deal leaves the ruling Republican Party with a solid majority in parliament, suggesting that real change in the landlocked former Soviet republic that is a key Russian ally could still be far away.
Many protesters were still skeptical.
“We just let off steam and didn’t achieve anything yet — the Republicans stay in power and the old system won’t change,” said Bagram Oganian, a university instructor who a day earlier was among those blocking the capital’s airport.
In a move to calm the turmoil that has gripped Armenia for weeks, the Republican Party said it would support any candidate for premier nominated by one-third of the lawmakers in parliament — support that Pashinian claims to have.
Pashinian then called on demonstrators to cease their protests.
In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, party deputy head Armen Ashotyan reaffirmed the deal for the vote that is to be held Tuesday in parliament.
“We had two criteria to assist any candidate. The first is a necessary threshold of signatures … The second is to calm down the situation on the streets, not blocking interstate roads, airports, etc.,” he said. “So the man who could cope with these criteria is considered to be Nikol Pashinian.”
Ashotyan said if the streets stay calm “as agreed, we will assist his election.”
Yet once Pashinian takes the post, Armenia’s political dynamics will become complicated. Ashotyan said the Republican party would “consider itself the opposition” despite retaining a majority of lawmakers in parliament.
“In my personal opinion, there is no way of any cooperation with new political forces,” he said. “We will not be part of this government.”
A stalemate could quickly rekindle demonstrators, whose actions over the past three weeks bolstered their confidence.
“We paralyzed the whole country. We showed the authorities our strength and we should finish the revolution,” said 46-year-old businessman Tigran Ovsesian.
The Yerevan protests began April 13 and spread to other parts of the country. Frustration with widespread poverty and corruption burst into anger over what demonstrators saw as longtime President Serzh Sargsyan’s power grab.
Sargsyan, who was president for a decade, stepped down because of term limits but on April 17 was named prime minister. Under a shift in government structure, the premiership had become more powerful than the presidency.
But as the protests against him attracted tens of thousands nightly in Yerevan’s central square, Sargsyan unexpectedly resigned just six days after being appointed prime minister.
Avet Demourian in Yerevan and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.