Demonstration in Yerevan

As we arrive in Yerevan and would turn to Martiros Saryan Avenue with the minibus, a police car blocks our way. We have to make a large detour to the hotel. “What was here?” I ask the receptionist. “A demonstration. It was over ten minutes ago.” “Why did they protest?” “Well…” he tries to begin at something understandable to the Western visitor, “against the government. Low salaries and stuff.” “Against the Pashinyan government? Because they lost the war?” I crack it in medias res. “Of course”, he says with relief that he is not talking to a Martian.

The next day, as we are heading back from Matenadaran, the manuscript institute, to the downtown, all the main street is blocked by a jam. We can clearly hear the sounds of a demonstration in the center. We set off on foot. The intersection of Mashtots and Sayat Nova avenues is blocked by a mass of tents and flags, with groups of black crows drinking or excitedly crouching under various place names. In a circle around them, a multitude of policemen and riot police are having coffee, with their vehicles turning toward the intersection. “What is going on here?” I ask one of the cops. “Unfortunately we cannot comment, sir”, he smiles at me. I go to a crow with an armband, promoted into a peacock walking up and down between the flags. “What’s happening?” “We will overthrow the government. Pashinyan is a traitor.” “Why is he a traitor?” “Because he is a traitor”, he says and turns away from me.

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A little bit after the intersection we sit down under old trees in a pub’s garden. The waitress is an Armenian from Murmansk. Some peoples can be there everywhere. Last year I was in Viiborg, still full of the wounds of the 1940 Winter War, where three Armenian restaurants lined up on the same street. “What is going on?” I hint toward the intersection. “A revolution”, she declares simply. “Against the government? But they too came to power in a revolution”, I recall the day of 8 May, four years ago, when we were waiting in the garden of the monastery of Noravank, whether the post-communist Republican Party, led by Serzh Sargsyan, would accept the election victory of the Armenian revolution led by Nikol Pashinyan. The Armenian visitors gathered around portable radios, and when the news was announced, everyone cheered and applauded. A young priest came to us, asking where we had come from, and then ushered us into the temple and blessed us all in the occasion of the great event.

“Yes”, the girl says, “but so many young people died in the war. Now their relatives rally there”, she nods toward the demonstration resounding with beautiful Armenian patriotic songs. “But they were not killed by Pashinyan, but rather by the Turks”, I try to adopt rationality. “Yes, but he sent them to the front.” Victory justifies everything, defeat questions everything. Had Pashinyan won in Karabakh, all the sacrifices would have been worth it, while by losing, he became a butcher of the youth. One-bit thinking is not the exclusive property of Hungarian voters.

The Pashinyan government is now in a hole. His pro-European liberal policy of independence has provoked resentment from the Russian leadership, while the country can only exist with Russian support in the grip of Turkey and Azerbaijan. In 2021, the Russians watched idly as Azerbaijan recaptured nearly half of Karabakh and the surrounding territories, and this was a serious disciplinary message. The Russian leadership is now clearly expecting – and certainly promoting – the Armenian people to recall themselves the pro-Russian government replaced four years ago. And the Armenian population seems to understand the message. During the current war in Ukraine, no Ukrainian flag can be seen, while Russian flags and pro-Russian inscriptions occasionally do appear. This is in a sharp contrast to how neighboring Georgia, in spite of their pro-Russian government, is full of Ukrainian flags, inscriptions and sings of standing up for the Ukrainians.

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