Nikol Pashinian on Thursday called for an immediate end to road closures and other street protests which continued across Armenia even after he was elected prime minister last week.
Groups of citizens blocked streets and highways in Yerevan and other parts of the country and demonstrated outside government buildings in recent days. They included Pashinian supporters demanding the resignation of Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian, parents of schoolchildren angry with their allegedly corrupt principals, taxi drivers protesting against traffic fines and milk farmers seeking higher purchasing prices from dairy companies.
Traffic through one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Arshakuniats Avenue, has been blocked on a daily basis by dozens of other people demanding the release of jailed members of a radical opposition group that launched a deadly attack on a Yerevan police station in 2016. The leader of the gunmen currently standing trial, Varuzhan Avetisian, on Wednesday blasted Pashinian’s apparent reluctance to try to have them freed.
Pashinian, who himself organized such “civil disobedience” actions during his successful campaign for regime change, appealed to the protesters in a Facebook live broadcast.
“Now that there is a government in Armenia which took over with a popular mandate and for solving the people’s problems it is not quite understandable, to be honest, that we block roads and take other civil disobedience actions on a daily basis,” he said. “Who are we disobeying? … Ourselves? I don’t think it’s a right approach.”
“I am calling on everyone to stop all civil disobedience actions from 3 p.m. today. But I’m not calling on you to go home and just sit there and come to terms with your problems,” he said, urging disgruntled Armenians to submit their grievances to his government in writing. The government needs time to address them, he added.
“If I don’t enjoy the people’s trust, please let me know. If I do, then let us turn that trust into concrete results in a normal working regime,” stressed the former protest leader who drew huge crowds last month to force Prime Minister and former President Serzh Sarkisian into resignation.
Pashinian also stressed that his appeal is addressed to those citizens who do not follow the “logic of sabotage” against his cabinet which met for the first time earlier in the day.
The video appeal came just a few hours after another ex-president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, expressed serious concern at the protests, saying that they are threatening to undercut Pashinian even if their participants have largely legitimate demands. Ter-Petrosian said the street closures, blockades of government buildings, strikes and other disruptive actions could help Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) “sabotage” the work of the new government.
“In Armenia there has emerged an extraordinary situation where the state apparatus could simply fall apart and condemn the country to complete chaos,” he warned in an article published on Ilur.am.
Pashinian, 42, was a prominent and influential member of Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement which nearly brought to the ex-president back to power in 2008. The two men fell out bitterly in 2012.
Up until last week, Ter-Petrosian seemed to have serious misgivings about Pashinian’s rise to power. But he has since signaled support for his erstwhile ally. On Thursday, Ter-Petrosian described the regime change in Armenia as a “great victory” and said Pashinian has already earned a “worthy place in Armenian history.”