President Armen Sarkissian has described as “memorable” the unprecedented mass protests that brought down Armenia’s former government one year ago.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Sarkissian again hailed the peaceful character of the dramatic regime change. But he cautioned that more time is needed to assess the “the velvet revolution” and its significance.
“In retrospect, it was a time of great changes in my, your and many Armenians’ lives one year ago, and I think that each of those days was memorable,” he said. “Many recalled and probably also tried to analyze, evaluate every day [of those protests,] but any person, any event is judged by time or, if you like, God. And Go [will do so] through the words and thoughts of our compatriots, our future generations.”
Armenia marked the first anniversary of the revolution on Saturday with a new public holiday, called Citizen’s Day, designated by its current leadership. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the protest leader who swept to power in May 2018, personally participated in festivities held in the streets of Yerevan.
Sarkissian did not attend the celebrations criticized by opposition groups. Nor did he issue any statements on the occasion.
Asked about how he is marking Citizen’s Day, Sarkissian said: “If you ask me some time later I will remember the following: today my staff was happy to admit a new employee, a very bright young man who is one of the heroes of the April  war [in Nagorno-Karabakh,] and was not just wounded but also lost a part of his leg during the war.”
A former diplomat who lived in London for nearly three decades, Sarkissian was elected president of the republic in March 2018 by the former Armenian parliament controlled by outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK). He was sworn in on April 9, 2018, just days before the start of the Pashinian-led protests against Serzh Sarkisian’s plans to extend his decade-long rule by serving as prime minister under a new, parliamentary system of government.
The protests rapidly gained momentum, threatening to paralyze the country. On April 21, the president visited Yerevan’s Republic Square, the focal point of the protests, to talk to Pashinian and propose that the latter hold crisis talks with Serzh Sarkisian. The talks held in front of reporters the following day ended in failure. Serzh Sarkisian resigned as prime minister on April 23.
Explaining his surprise appearance on Republic Square, Armen Sarkissian said his main objective was to broker a dialogue between the government and the Pashinian-led opposition and thus prevent street violence.
“We and others called it a velvet revolution,” he went on. “I often call it a revolution in the Armenian way … We are Armenians and we are different from many others in that we manage to carry out dramatic changes, including revolutions, in a very humane manner, without clashes, without tragedies, which of course hugely impressed the world.”
Citing his constitutional role as a largely ceremonial head of state, the 65-year-old president was careful not to pass judgment on the current government’s policies and, in particular, its stated efforts to bring about an “economic revolution” in the country.
“It’s not the president’s role,” he said. “The president may have his personal views and readily share them with the prime minister or members of the government but not with journalists.”