Peaceful Revolution In Action: Pashinyan Elected Armenia’s New Prime Minister

It was 1989 when the Sametová revoluce (Czech for “Velvet Revolution”) brought about the end of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia. The leadership of the Communist Party stepped down and allowed playwright-activist Václav Havel to ascend to the presidency. Havel opened his candidacy up to referendum the very next year, allowing the Central European country to hold its first democratic elections since 1946. Transfers of power are inevitable, and it is the peaceful nature of this transition that is the true triumph.

Another Velvet Revolution took place last week when the parliament of Armenia, another post-Soviet state, chose Nikol Pashinyan to replace Serzh Sargsyan as the nation’s Prime Minister. Sargsyan, the head of the Republican Party of Armenia, had held the position previously from March 2007 until April 2008. An unpopular leader, his first stint in office had prompted unrest that was violently suppressed, leaving ten people dead. In 2014 he angered the public by pledging not to become Prime Minister a second time while simultaneously supporting a constitutional amendment that would allow him to do so. When he took office again in April of this year, the Armenian people took matters into their own hands. A crowd of over 50,000 people surrounded the National Assembly building on the 21st of April, blocking entrances and causing widespread street closures in the capital. Their efforts were vindicated just two days later when Sargsyan succumbed to pressure and resigned.

Enter Pashinyan, former journalist and leader of the protest movement. A former fugitive of the Armenian government, he went into hiding in 2008 after law enforcement proclaimed him wanted for seditious activities including “premeditated actions intended to seizing of state power” and “organization of mass disorder”. He spent the better part of the year in Yerevan before turning himself in and taking advantage of a general amnesty of opposition figures, which allowed him to resume his anti-government activism. After surviving an assassination attempt he collaborated with six other activists to found the Civil Contract Party. The Civil Contract launched the “Take a Step, Reject Serzh” campaign that galvanized the resistance and ultimately led to the success of the revolution. Parliament failed to appoint Pashinyan on May 1st, but a second vote on May 8th approved him by a tally of 59 to 42.

One of the major issues faced by the revolutionary-turned-politician will be the handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The region has been a longstanding point of contention between Armenia and the bordering country of Azerbaijan; despite being inhabited by an Armenian ethnic majority, Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions have been disputed ever since they were declared an Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. War broke out after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, eventually culminating in an uneasy ceasefire three years later. Peace talks have occurred sporadically in the new millennium, but recent unrest has left the region more volatile than ever. Pashinyan has affirmed his commitment to peaceful negotiation and empowerment of the local population, saying that mutual concessions would be possible only after recognition of the right of the Nagorno-Karabakh people to self-determination.”

The Washington Post called Pashinyan’s rise “some badly needed good news for democracy”, while other have claimed that the so-called “Velvet Revolution” merely constitutes a replacement of Russian oligarchs with American ones. If the advancement of world peace is indeed going to be ideologically conflated with the advancement of democracy, then the will of a people should always be supported even if it is misguided. As the saying goes, that is what democracy looks like: I have more faith in progress through successive revolutions than I have in progress through maintenance of the status quo. All we can do is hope that these revolutions are as non-violent as possible.