Protesters continuing to occupy a central Yerevan avenue chose on the night from Tuesday to Wednesday new leaders who pledged to reinvigorate their campaign for the cancellation of a controversial rise in Armenian electricity prices.
The ongoing civic movement dubbed “Electric Yerevan” had been in turmoil since its initial organizer, a youth group called No To Plunder, urged the protesters to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue and move back to the city’s pedestrian Liberty Square on Sunday.
The No To Plunder leaders warned of another violent police crackdown on the nonstop demonstration, saying the campaign should now take different forms. They also pointed to a major concession that was made by President Serzh Sarkisian on Saturday.
Most protesters rejected the appeal, leading No To Plunder to renounce responsibility for their further actions on the blocked street leading to the presidential palace. Attendance at the nonstop demonstration visibly declined on Monday and Tuesday, with only up to several thousand people participating in it before midnight.
The young protesters formed a new leadership comprising 15 mostly little-known activists. The most well-known of them is Davit Sanasarian, a senior member of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. Sanasarian, who is also a member of the city’s municipal assembly, made clear that he is participating in “Electric Yerevan” only in his personal capacity.
“Our first task is to sort out this disorganized situation,” Sanasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “There are no leaders here. There are only persons who will be doing hard work.”
“We should spend more time here than other citizens, because we are responsible for what is happening here,” he said.
The new leaders set about forming on Tuesday night separate teams of activists who will deal with public order on the avenue, public relations as well as economic and legal aspects of the movement’s demands. “Each team will have a representative who will present proposals to the citizen’s [leadership] group that will in turn work on those proposals and submit them to you,” one of them, Narek Ayvazian, told the crowd remaining on Marshal Bagramian Avenue.
The new leaders put a greater emphasis on public discussions there, offering any protester a chance to speak up and suggest concrete actions. Sanasarian insisted that any decision made by them will have to be backed by most protesters.
It is not yet clear whether the new group will seek to step up pressure on the Armenian authorities by expanding the protests or adding political demands to their agenda. Its members say only that they will only settle for a full acceptance of their key demand by the authorities. As one of them, Hmayak Mkrtchian, put it, “Even half a step back would mean a defeat for us.”
Meanwhile, the Armenian police on Wednesday again threatened to forcibly end the protests, saying that it was not sanctioned by municipal authorities and “disproportionately limits the constitutional rights of other citizens and public interests.” It also urged the protesters to rally elsewhere in downtown Yerevan.
Earlier in the day, Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and a senior police official urged parents not to allow their underage children to spend nights on the site of the protests.