April 23rd 2015 is one of those days I will never forget. On that very day one of my dreams came true – I was lucky to see my favorite band – System of a Down – playing in their homeland. It was their first ever concert in Armenia, right before the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and the crowds gathered at the Republic Square, including me, were ecstatic.
I would have never imagined that I would witness even bigger and more ecstatic crowds on the very same place and on the very same date, April 23rd, just 3 years later!
Table of contents
Before arriving to Yerevan
I arrived to Armenia with a heavy heart. For the reason unknown even to me I adore this small land and its capital city – Yerevan – is one of “my” places. I try to be there every year, especially around April 24th, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
And this year was the same however Armenia and especially Yerevan felt different. I arrived on the 9th day of protests that have been going through the country against ex-president Serzh Sargsyan who has became the prime minister.
I was anxious. I still remember very well the protests in Ukraine in 2014 that eventually led to the change of power but at the highest cost, with over 100 casualties. Every time I visit Kiev and a walk around Maidan Nezalezhnosti is a sad reminder of those tragic events.
And even if the protests in Armenia were peaceful I knew very well things might turn for worse any time.
Background of the Armenian protests
The background of the protests was rather simple. Yes, people were tired of the current state of Armenia but the spark that made people go out to the streets and protest was the former president Serzh Sargsyan who – when he was in power – changed the constitution so the role of president was limited mostly to representational while the prime minister was the actual head of the country.
Even if Sargsyan promised he will not stand for the PM he did so when, after the second cadence, he couldn’t have continued to be a president. Of course he was chosen which de facto meant he would continue to rule Armenia. That was too much for the people.
My impressions of protests in Armenia
At first I tried to avoid the protests but it was impossible, they were spread all over the city. The locals had this smart idea of civil disobedience – instead of one huge protest (that was happening each evening at Republic Square) from early morning they diffused to all areas of Yerevan and were marching there, causing the traffic to stop.
After bumping into some of the protest I’ve realized that in general there is nothing to worry about. People were all smiling, cheerful and ready for a change in their country. Who couldn’t have joined the march (as he/she was working) just stood on the street and applauded the protesters. And for all the time the city was filled with the sound of honking cars, as a way to show the support.
I didn’t want to get involved too much, after all that’s not my country, but I couldn’t help to have tears in my eyes and goose bumps. After that I happily joined other protests I stumbled across, even if in the back of my head I always had this thought that the police isn’t there to protect the marchers, quite the opposite actually.
Things escalated quickly as on the next day, after failed negotiations, three of the protest’s leaders got arrested and the prime minister said that all the manifestations are illegal and the force might be used to disperse them. This got people even more angry and the number of protesters increased, big time! The main demonstration at Republic Square gathered around 100.000 people even if technically there were no leaders!
Protests outside of Yerevan
On Monday, April 23rd, I left for a day trip to Lake Sevan. On the way my bus was stopped twice as there were protests blocking the roads (and stone barricades on the diversion road). But while the fellow passengers got irritated I wasn’t as I knew it’s for a good cause (besides I’m good at not being mad about things that are out of my control).
As there was the wifi in the bus all day long I was following news from Yerevan to see what’s happening in the city. It was rather obvious things are looking up when students and the army joined the protests as well as the leaders were released from detention.
Around 4pm we got the breaking news – Serzh Sargsyan resigned as the prime minister! Suddenly the mood lifted up and the whole journey back to Yerevan was like a party – drivers were honking and greetings each other and everyone around seemed to be happy. But that was just a foretaste of what was happening in Yerevan!
Celebrations in Yerevan
Already in the outskirts it seemed like everyone is heading downtown to celebrate. People were waving flags, hugging each other, dancing on the streets. Numerous bars’ and restaurants’ owners opened champagnes and gave it to passers-by to celebrate the victory.
The center of Yerevan was a madness! It was impossible to walk on the streets, there were so many people around, it felt like the pure happiness is floating around! All generations of Armenians were out savoring this historical moment.
People were cheering, dancing, hugging and just celebrating the victory they’ve achieved in the peaceful way! Many had tears in their eyes, not believing they’ve achieved what they were aiming for. So many cars (most with covered license plate, just in case) were blocking the streets, drivers were honking and passengers were waving flags frantically.
I spent a solid part of the afternoon and evening just walking around Yerevan, breathing in this unforgettable atmosphere and feeling so proud I can witness this moment in the country that is so dear to me, in my favorite city. The well deserved celebrations lasted until late night hours. When I was falling asleep after midnight I still could hear fireworks and cars honking outside…
After April 23rd
And then April 24th arrived, the Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day. The atmosphere in the city was completely different. I came to Yerevan to take part in the commemoration again, as I did in previous years, but as a bonus I managed to witness the history happening on the streets of the Armenian capital and beyond. Even if it wasn’t my revolution it still felt incredible to be part of it.
Now I’m back at home and still following news from Armenia as, after the first victory, protests and the revolution continue. There are numerous scenarios waiting for the country, some might not be too good, but I truly hope Armenia will choose wisely and a bright future is waiting for it! And I know I will never forget another April 23rd in Yerevan!
Pictures from streets of Yerevan
Below you can see some of the pictures from this special day in Yerevan. I know they are far from being good, they are blurry or not sharp at all but that’s how dynamic everything was and they show very well the atmosphere on the streets in Yerevan on that very day.
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