Friday, 21 March 2008

Armenia: "Mute" revolution?

*video - via A1+; photos - via IA Regnum; text - by John Hughes, ArmeniaNow

In a mass display of defiant quiet, several thousands walked on Yerevan city center sidewalks today, shouting a message by saying nothing.

A ban on public demonstration that has existed since March 1, when bloody and deadly clashes with law enforcement resulted in the deaths of 8, injury of at least 131 and the arrests of more than 100 was lifted today. But with today’s “silent protest” Armenia’s opposition demonstrated that while the State of Emergency no longer exists, the state of unrest is yet significant.

Responding to a call broadcast via internet, teenagers to grannies left their homes and went into the streets, mindful of March 1 (see related articles) and the violence that came about the last time they tried to voice their discontent.

There was no voice today. No shouts of either “Lev-on” or “Free-dom” that had identified the movement since the disputed February 19 presidential election. Instead, obedient to the internet message appeal for order they marched – strolled really – from Liberty Square to Myasnikyan statue, the polar points of disturbance three weeks ago.

While walking separately they clearly walked united in front of restrained riot police as hundreds stood in an unlinked human chain along the protest pathway stretching some three-quarters of a mile. Some held photographs of oppositionists who have been arrested in the government crackdown, sparked by the violence that itself spilled from law enforcement intervention of what had been 10 days of peaceful protests. Some held political posters; some candles. Armine Hovannisian, wife of Heritage Party leader Raffi K. Hovannisian carried yellow daffodils. A few youth had photocopied crosshairs on their chest – a gesture that lost some of its meaning when jackets were pulled on against the spring chill.

And all were conspicuously under the lens of government security forces who had cameramen posted along the route.

Leaderless, they walked nonetheless purposefully under the capital’s overcast skies and through dust storms stirred at the many large construction sites along the way. Conversations were kept to polite volume in a crowd hardly bearing evidence of political might, but rather resembling the vigilant throngs that mark Genocide Memorial Day each April 24 here.

Participants had been encouraged to wear something black for the event – a redundancy hardly making them stick out on these streetss. And if by chance Armenia might distinguish itself among the themed trend of “rose” and “orange” rebellions of the regional neighborhood, this could considerably be seen as the “Mute” revolution.

If further such civil action is to be organized, it no doubt will face gathering resistance. A new law passed this week by National Assembly, and to take effect March 28, effectively declares any such gathering illegal (and punishable) as part of President Robert Kocharyan’s promise to “restore stability” as part of his legacy to incoming president Serzh Sargsyan, who takes office April 9.

Emphasizing his resolve to face down opposition, Kocharyan, according to state press services on Thursday, said that he will “initiate a legislative bill that would enforce tougher norms for protection of the statehood's foundations.”


Anonymous said...

Today I saw the people standing. Many brave women. People standing according to the plan. There were men too, older men, younger men.

The most extraordinary quality of today's crowd was it was made of "individuals", nobody shouting, nobody raising arms, just individuals with a will for change - normal people, good people.

There were many cops all the way from the Opera until the French embassy wearing different uniforms; some of them looked pitiful in old soviet anti-riot gears.

I saw people laughing among the demonstrators, as well as within the ranks of the anti-riot cops, but the mood was heavy, and nervous. Too many uniforms - they should have put less of them or not give them those big truncheons they wield.

(a foreigner in Yerevan)

Anonymous said...

the photo is awesome!
looks like the face of protest is changing.
when I lived there most people at the manifestation were gloomy middle-aged men in black leather jackets, smoking and eating sunflower seeds...
now you see a lot of women, young people, including some "jagi-jugi" youngsters. a couple of years ago a girl like the one on the picture wouldn't have known the name of the president, now she's there holding posters of political prisoners.
So, yeah... what can I say...
forward Armenia !
an Armenian in LA (hoping to come back soon)

reflective said...

Actually, I think the whole day was a collective sign of bravery. For the first time, I saw the radical opposition plan a protest in which hatred and racist invective wasn't the tone of the day. It is part of the collective evolution (of the authorities and the protesters) that we as a nation should welcome.