A poorly attended rally at Yerevan’s Liberty Square has marked the end of sustained street protests that have forced the Armenian government to effectively suspend a controversial rise in electricity prices.
The current young leaders of the movement dubbed “Electric Yerevan” rallied supporters there late on Thursday three days after riot police forcibly unblocked the city’s central Marshal Bagramian Avenue that was occupied by protesters for the past two weeks.
They threatened renewed “decisive actions” against the government in the run-up to the rally. One of the protest leaders, Davit Sanasarian, indicated on Thursday morning that the youth movement could opt for another standoff with security forces if it attracts a large crowd.
Only a few hundred people turned out for the rally, however, leading the “Electric Yerevan” leaders to acknowledge that their number is too small to put pressure on the authorities. They stopped short of even staging a march through the city center.
The Armenian police made clear shortly before the unsanctioned rally that they will not allow such a march. Scores of police officers were deployed in and around the pedestrian square for that purpose.
Narek Ayvazian, one of the protest leaders, said the movement will hold another rally next week but announced no concrete dates. “We will move forward towards victory because we are the masters of this country,” he said.
Sanasarian, for his part, announced the end of his three-day hunger strike aimed at getting thousands of Armenians to rejoin the protests. “I’m ending the hunger strike on one condition: we won’t keep streets and squares vacant,” he said.
The nonstop protests on Marshal Bagramian Avenue, which began on June 22, attracted large crowds until President Serzh Sarkisian announced on June 27 that his government will temporarily subsidize energy supplies to ensure that Armenians do not pay more for electricity at least until an emergency audit of the national electric utility. The audit is supposed to determine whether the Russian-owned utility was right to seek higher tariffs.
No To Plunder, a youth group which launched the protests, urged the demonstrators to leave the avenue on June 28. But it was pushed aside by more radical activists like Ayvazian and Sanasarian. They insisted that the authorities formally and irreversibly annul the more than 17 percent price hike.
Sanasarian also demanded on Thursday a criminal investigation into what many Armenians believe is widespread corruption within the national power distribution network. He said he and his comrades will push for regime change in Armenia if this demand is rejected.