A close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian congratulated Armenians on Tuesday on the first anniversary of the dramatic resignation of the country’s former leader, Serzh Sarkisian, announced amid mass protests against his continued rule.
“I want to congratulate all of us in connection with that event and say that a very important event happened in Armenia one year ago,” said Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and senior member of Pashinian’s My Step bloc.
“The people of Armenia once again proved their superior qualities,” Simonian told reporters.
Sarkisian stepped down on April 23, 2018 just six days after completing his second presidential term in office and becoming Armenia’s prime minister amid intensifying street protests organized by Pashinian.
“Nikol Pashinian was right, I was mistaken,” Sarkisian said in a written address to the nation.“There are several solutions to the existing situation but I will not opt for any of them. They are not to my liking.”
“The movement in the streets is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand,” he added.
The announcement sparked jubilant scenes in the streets of Yerevan filled with hundreds of thousands of people demanding his resignation.
Sarkisian publicly rejected the demands for his resignation as recently as on April 22. At a short televised meeting with Pashinian, he accused the opposition leader of blackmailing “the legitimate authorities of the state.” “A faction that got 7-8 percent of the vote [in the April 2017 parliamentary elections] cannot speak on behalf of the people,” he said, referring to the opposition Yelk bloc, of which Pashinian was a leader.
Pashinian was detained more than an hour after that meeting while holding a fresh demonstration in Yerevan. The arrest only added to popular anger, with tens of thousands of people flocking to Republic Square later on April 22.
The protests resumed in Yerevan and other Armenian cities the following morning. Pashinian was set free in the afternoon, shortly before the announcement of Sarkisian’s resignation.
The then Armenian parliament controlled by Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) reluctantly elected Pashinian prime minister on May 8 under relentless pressure from huge crowds demonstrating across the country.
Pashinian’s protest movement was also backed by other major political forces, notably Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). The BHK joined his first cabinet formed later in May. It is now in opposition to the government.
A senior BHK figure, Gevorg Petrosian, claimed on Tuesday that the “velvet revolution” has not lived up to the people’s expectations yet. “The people did the revolution in hopes that there will be a tangible, positive improvement in their lives in the very near future,” he said. “In the economic sense we don’t have tangible growth right now.”
Simonian disagreed, saying that Pashinian’s government is consistently improving the economic situation in Armenia with sweeping reforms. “This is an ongoing process which will continue unabated,” he said. “Everything will be done so that Armenia’s citizens feel the difference on their skin, in their family budgets.”
Earlier this month the current parliament controlled by My Step approved a government proposal to designate the last Saturday of April as a public holiday called Citizen’s Day. Pashinian insisted in March that the new holiday will be dedicated to “the victory of the people and democracy,” rather than his rise to power.