A protest against proposed electricity tariff hikes has entered its second week in Yerevan and in some communities outside the Armenian capital. The stand-off has turned into a sit-in that has its epicenter near the Presidential Residence on Baghramyan Avenue, and as momentum seems to be growing, there are expectations and some apprehensions of what the weekend and beyond hold.
Led by the “No to Plunder” civil initiative, the movement has been dubbed “Electric Yerevan” and with crowds of up to 10,000 demonstrators, has gotten the attention of international media – some of whom are making comparisons to incidents that sparked revolution in Ukraine.
In Yerevan, however, leaders of the resistance to the proposed 16 percent hike (effective August 1), insist that their cause is social, and not political, and they simply want to be heard, again, as the voice of the people.
Some media reports have speculated that protest leaders want negotiations with President Serzh Sargsyan, but those leaders say their demands are clear and it is up to the president whether to meet them.
“There are no expectations for a new meeting,” one of the members of the initiative, founding president of amateur bicycle riding and tourism federation Arman Antonyan told ArmeniaNow.
After an early demonstration was met with force (water cannons) and detention of more than 200, police have promised to remain calm so long as the protestors do, too. Both sides kept order, and the result has been growing numbers that opponents of the tariff hike hope to see grow.
“The president was here before leaving for Brussels (to attend a European Peoples Party summit), if he wanted to change something, he would have. Now, maybe, we should press with more numbers of people, because changes take place only with united forces. If we become 60-70,000, our demand will become heard,” Eduard Mkhitaryan, member of No to Plunder civil initiative told ArmeniaNow.
They are not ready to go for any compromise. President Serzh Sargsyan, who returned from Brussels on Thursday, still leaves protestors’ demands unanswered, and the government warns about electricity interruptions, if the tariff is not increased.
Meanwhile representatives of the government wrote on social networks that as a matter of fact the government has nothing to do with increasing or decreasing the tariff, as doing so is the responsibility of the Public Services regulatory Commission (PSRC).
Political analyst Edgar Vardanyan from the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is sure that negotiations with the government might harm the civil movement.
“In non-democratic countries movements that were initiated to reach radical changes and succeeded, de facto negotiations with the government were run only when it became clear that the movement won, however, there was need to record a “soft” victory to avoid unnecessary shocks,” Vardanyan wrote on his Face book account.
“In the beginning of the movement or in the midway negotiating with the authorities almost always harmed civil movements,” he concluded.
But the absence of negotiations has created a wall, and negotiations will be very complicated, although they seem to be easy; economist Ashot Khurshudyan, an expert with the International Center for Human Development said.
“It is complicated, because we should find a solution which will be accepted by the sides.”
“The wall situation is the one when the sides realize that a mutual solution is necessary, and the alternatives are bad for the both of them. In this case, a mutual solution means, for the government – people go home, or at least liberate the Avenue moving to another spot. The protestors want the same, only when their condition is met, when their voice is heard (the meaning of closing the avenue is always the same – “do not ignore our problem”),” Khurshudyan said.
The “wall” grows bigger if the issue is politicized, leaders of the movement say.
“This is solely a civil initiative, and follows only one goal – suspension of electricity tariff increase. The youth has stood up and will go till the end,” initiative leader Arman Antonyan said.
“Now there are MPs with us, both opposition and republican. They come and go, but nobody will make a speech. This movement is self-initiated, no loud announcements will be made,” Mkhitaryan added.
By Sara Khojoyan