A 24-year-old leader of the Armenian youth group that organized recent dramatic protests in Yerevan against an electricity price hike announced his resignation on Monday, saying that he is unable to combine civic activism with his new blue-collar job.
Vaghinak Shushanian was a key speaker at the “Electric Yerevan” protests that rocked Armenia and put it under a rare international spotlight.
No To Plunder, a pressure group which he set up together with other young activists, launched a nonstop demonstration on the city’s central Marshal Bagramian Avenue on June 22 in protest against the more than 17 more price hike approved by state utility regulators.
No To Plunder was pushed aside by other, more radical activists after urging thousands of mostly young people to unblock the street on June 28, citing major concessions offered by President Serzh Sarkisian. Shushanian was booed and jeered by them as he made the appeal on behalf of the non-partisan movement. The protests died down in the following days.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Shushanian said he has decided to resign from No To Plunder for purely personal reasons.“I am the only working-age man in the family,” he said. “My mother has a disability and doesn’t work, and my sister is a young girl who can barely support herself with what she earns. I have unpaid debts and need to pay rent.”
Shushanian, who studied law in an Armenian university, said he is now working as a waiter in a Yerevan café. “I may well return to the movement a few months later,” he said. “I just don’t have time right now.”
“I’m going to work shortly and will finish it at three o’clock in the morning,” added the activist. “I’ll then go home, get some sleep and again head back to work in the morning.”
Shushanian, who has been increasingly involved in civic activism over the past year, quit his previous job at a hotel ahead of the “Electric Yerevan” protests. “My employer said that because of my activities he’s had frequent visits from tax inspectors for the past year,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in late June. “My bosses were told to ‘put that young man in line’ or fire him.”
Maxim Sargsian, another No To Plunder leader, said the group “understands” Shushanian’s decision despite being surprised by it. He dismissed as “ridiculous” speculation about discord within the group.
Sargsian also insisted that No To Plunder is continuing its activities and plans renewed rallies in Yerevan soon. He said the group is currently seeking detailed information from various government bodies about an upcoming emergency audit of Armenia’s national power utility.
The audit is meant to determine whether the price hike was justified or resulted from corruption and mismanagement within the Russian-owned company. In the meantime, the Armenian government will subsidize the energy tariffs, meaning that they will remain unchanged for households.