I have to admit – I am REALLY excited about what is happening in Armenia.
Here’s the tl;dr:
- Last Monday (18 Feb) there was a presidential election that almost everyone assumed would be fixed so that the current regime would win.
- Nonetheless, there was an incredible effort to do election violating monitoring — not from official bodies like OSCE, but from efforts like iditord. Moreover, there was a lot of social media discussion about things going on. Also a lot of events were livestreamed, so many people not in Armenia were paying attention virtually.
- Shockingly, one of the opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, seems to have gotten a lot of the votes.
- Hovannisian are really interesting because he’s Armenian-American (and the son of a famous Armenian American historian), but he moved to Armenia in 1990 and was foreign minister in the early days. There are a small number of people who went early to “help” and have done pretty well, especially given the complicated relationship between people in the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora. But I cannot overemphasize how cool this is that Hovannisian comes from this background.
- Hovannisian campaigned more like an American than an Armenian. He met with people, asked questions, and was fairly honest.
- So when the votes were being counted on Monday, Hovannisian announced that he was the victor.
- Since people were sort of surprised that the election wasn’t totally in the favor of the ruling party, there was sort of a fast rearrangement of ideas and thoughts amongst those against the current regime. (Not many of them were actively supporting Hovannisian.)
- On Tuesday 19 Feb, Hovannisian gave a press conference (which was livestreamed) where he declared himself victor. That night, some individuals went to the Central Election Commission to protest.
- On Wednesday 20 Feb, Hovannisian came to Freedom Square and gave a speech and demanded that current President Sargsyan come to Freedom Square by 2pm on Thursday to hand over the election, so to speak. Some known opposition leaders spoke at this event, lending credibility.
- On Thursday 21 Feb, a planned event in Freedom Square where Sargsyan was supposed to appear was canceled. Hovannisian walked up to the presidential palace to meet with Sargsyan. Afterwards he said that there’d be a rally on Friday to tell people what happened at the meeting.
- On Friday 22 Feb, the next rally was held and more opposition leaders spoke in support of Hovannisian. Hovannsian announced that at the Thursday meeting, Sarsgsyan didn’t accept the offer to have new elections or recount; hold extraordinary parliamentary elections; or to punish all those who violated election rules. Thus, Hovannisian was moving forward. It was announced that Hovannisian would go to a number of regional cities throughout the day on Saturday 23 Feb to raise support and hold another large rally on Sunday in Yerevan. This reaching out to the regions is pretty unusual, as Yerevan is sort of the “center of the universe” in Armenia. I think that this was a really good plan. The crowds in these cities were pretty large. The livestreaming of the regional rallies was pretty impressive too.
- So on Sunday 24 Feb there is supposed to be something big in Freedom Square again. Let’s see what happens.
ETA 24 Feb 6pm — Hovannisian gave a very brief speech and pledged to continue nationwide rallies – he is going to Ararat, Vayots Dzor, Syunik, and Kotayk.
My friend Mika wrote a beautiful piece in Armenian on why he supports Hovannisian yesterday and Artur reposted it in English. In this Mika reflects on how Hovannisian is operating different from the struggles in 2008 — because of the cloud-computing flexible, DECENTRALIZED style of this. (done with 24 Feb addition).
So, my thoughts:
- I’m actually more excited about this than I was in 2008. A lot of people are getting on board it appears.
- I don’t love everything about Raffi Hovannisian, but I completely appreciate his more Western-orientation. Is this because I myself am an American? Absolutely. However, the whole post-Soviet leader thing hasn’t been working for Armenia yet so far, so I think that it is worth giving Hovannisian a chance.
- I think that Hovannisian and his team are pretty smart, but what’s the actual mechanism for change? What is the next step going to be? How are they going to try to actually wrestle the power out of the current regime’s hands? I ASSUME they have a plan though.
- There are a lot of “missing” people right now. For example, ex-PM (and also a diasporan Armenian) Vartan Oskanyan, who has been sort of a shady character at times, hasn’t said anything yet. He also is connected to CivilNet.TV – which has been a major source of non-government-affiliated news during all of this. But he is connected quite a bit to people in the current regime and other not-so-nice types.
- Former Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan was a really interesting figure in the last few years but he got shipped off to Moscow. What will he do?
- LTP, the former great white hope of the opposition (and former President), hasn’t said anything. He is a major liability. Wonder what’s going on here? (ETA 11pm Yerevan time – LTP made a vague statement today.)
- With Hovannisian being diasporan, what role will the diaspora play here? Are they paying attention? Perhaps more than usual because of social media.
- The government hasn’t really done anything yet. Do they have something up their sleeves? Are they still planning? This is a little weird to me.