[The people have won. They have supplanted a hooligan, bullying
mentality with one of peaceful resistance, togetherness, and pride.]



 Arto Vaun 
 May 7, 2018
Al Jazeera

	* [https://portside.org/node/17186/printable/print]

 _ The people have won. They have supplanted a hooligan, bullying
mentality with one of peaceful resistance, togetherness, and pride. _ 

 Armenian opposition supporters attend a rally after protest movement
leader Nikol Pashinyan announced a nationwide campaign of civil
disobedience in Yerevan, Armenia May 2, 2018 , Garanich/Reuters 


Post-Soviet countries are rough and tumble places, full of intense
paradox, humour, microaggression, and beauty. There are fifteen former
Soviet states, each with its own cultural and socioeconomic components
and struggles. They have all been grappling with the ghost of the
Soviet Union in different ways, but the one thing they've all agreed
on is this: "Capitalism good, Socialism bad". One of the first things
to go during the collapse of the Soviet Union were all the statues of
Lenin and Marx. It was a collective sigh of relief, a venting of all
the misery which that authoritarian system had inflicted on so many
lives for most of the 20th century.

Problem was, those statues, and the oppression they represented, were
quickly replaced by new figures of oppression - oligarchs with their
hyper-capitalism, buoyed (however indirectly) by the neoliberal ideas
that have been dragging the West down since the 1970s.

That has been Armenia
[https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/country/armenia.html] since its
independence in 1991. But a few weeks ago, a different Armenia woke
up, as if from a 27-year coma. And the euphoria and empowerment of
that awakening have been intense and palpable, from Yerevan to the
remotest villages.

I moved
[https://armenianweekly.com/2014/03/15/let-me-off-here-thanks/] to
Armenia in 2014 for a faculty position at the American University of
Armenia, although I had never visited before. From day one, I noticed
a frustrating and peculiar mantra being repeated across Yerevan: "It's
a newly independent country; it's going to take time to fix problems,
so let's not be too critical". This seemed both absurd and arrogant
to me, not to mention very easy to say when one is speaking from a
position of comfort and privilege.

Most of us can't wait more than 30 minutes without wifi, but
low-income people with little options are supposed to wait years for
some improvement? It was the hollow rhetoric of western neoliberalism:
"Don't be too negative. We should make change slowly from the inside.
We need good managers. Armenian oligarchs will eventually become like
the Rockefellers and Carnegies of the US".Total and utter nonsense, as
hundreds of thousands of Armenians recently proved, starting in
mid-April when country-wide acts of civil disobedience and strikes
[https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/armenians-protesting-prime-minister-180419100711996.html] peacefully
brought down a regime that had seemed immovable for over a decade, as
though it was part of Armenia's DNA.

Being on the streets the past few weeks in Yerevan, Gyumri, and
Vanadzor, I have seen a wide cross-section of classes and backgrounds
speaking with one voice. I have seen nurses, villagers, and high
school students closing streets together. I have seen my own
university students linking arms with IT workers and truck drivers to
block main roads in Yerevan. I have heard speeches from women calling
for reforms in education, transparency in elections, and better
salaries. I have been in crowds of tens of thousands where strangers
from different social backgrounds were handing out free water and
snacks to protesters. This has been a peaceful movement with a
unified, clear demand: Fair elections, socioeconomic justice and an
end to oligarchic control.

Nikol Pashinyan
the opposition leader who rose to iconic stature, has emphasised
throughout that this movement is solely an internal, Armenian matter.
Although there is certainly a strong element of national pride in the
"Velvet Revolution," there can be no doubt that this is also a
masterclass in democratic socialist principles: Healthier
institutions, less corruption, fair pay, more regulation, better
education, advancement for all.

Even though the grandmother blocking the road is as Armenian as the
15-year-old boys who hacked into a closed mall's wifi so I could send
photos to my editors, that is not the only glue holding this movement
together, contrary to what many Armenians and diasporans might want to
believe. The main glue is that citizens finally realised that in a
country of barely three million people (many of whom live under the
poverty line or barely above it), creating real change is less
difficult than they were lead to believe by those self-defeating
mantras. They realised that all it takes is peacefully going on strike
and blocking the roads for 10 days, and giving politicians and
oligarchs a choice between unleashing violence on thousands or coming
to terms with the people's will.

The most stunning and humbling part of this movement has been how the
protesters kept subverting the nervousness, hesitation, and imposition
of "logic" that many people kept trying to project on a nationwide
awakening whose depth, power and collective dignity has left many
speechless. This was made clear to me when my wife, an editor and
photojournalist, came back to the office on the day Pashinyan was
forcibly taken away by special security forces. Smiling, she rolled up
her jeans and proudly showed off the wounds she'd received from the
concussion grenade that fell by her feet. While I became upset and
worried that she had been injured while doing her job, she just kept
smiling and said, "I'm totally fine. The people are winning this time,

Turns out, she was right. No matter what happens now, the people have
won. They have supplanted a hooligan, bullying mentality with one of
peaceful resistance, togetherness, and pride. Whatever one thinks
about Marx, the "Velvet Revolution" in Armenia has so far been a
lesson in a people's empowerment; a nation speaking as one voice for
basic socioeconomic rights and collective confidence - something
Armenia has been waiting for patiently since independence.

Yes, it will take time for things to change, but now we can say that
phrase with a straight face because there has been a major shift in
the consciousness of the Armenian people. Democracy - as described in
the Armenian constitution  - is being restored. And within a more
just framework, change can be equitably cultivated. This time, the
people will be the ones tending over what blooms, because this time
they planted the seeds of this new Armenia with their own hands.


_Arto Vaun [https://www.aljazeera.com/profile/arto-vaun.html] is a
poet, musician, and academic currently based in Yerevan._

	* [https://portside.org/node/17186/printable/print]







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