World View: Russia Confounded by the Chaotic Popular Uprising in Armenia

Opposition protesters block Armenia's main airport

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Armenia’s parliament refuses to support popular opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan
  • Nikol Pashinyan pledges loyalty to Russia, and everyone else
  • Armenia in a generational Awakening era

Armenia’s parliament refuses to support popular opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan

Supporters of Nikol Pashinyan demonstrate in Yerevan (Pravda)
Supporters of Nikol Pashinyan demonstrate in Yerevan (Pravda)

Armenia’s political turmoil went into full-scale chaos on Tuesday when the governing Republican party, which has a majority in the parliament, refused to support opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan’s bid to become prime minister, leaving the country with no prime minister and no obvious alternative candidate.

Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan stepped down as prime minister on August 23 in the face of huge street protests led by Pashinyan and his threats to shut down the country with nationwide protests and strikes. ( “26-Apr-18 World View — Armenia’s protesters continue protesting after forcing resignation of prime minister”)

After the parliament on Tuesday had hours of acrimonious debate and then refused to elect Pashinyan as the new prime minister to replace Sargsyan, there were once again tens of thousands of protesters in Republic Square in the capital city Yerevan. Pashinyan told the cheering supporters, “We will block the streets, the airports, the metro, the railway, everything that can be blocked.”

The protests are expected to continue. The parliament will hold another vote on May 8, and if no prime minister is elected, then the parliament will be dissolved, and new elections will be held. News (Armenia) and BBC and Reuters and Bloomberg

Nikol Pashinyan pledges loyalty to Russia, and everyone else

The turmoil in Armenia is of crucial importance to Russia because Armenia under Serzh Sargsyan was a close ally to Russia and followed Russia’s policy. Russia has an airbase in Armenia, and in 2013, Armenia chose to join a Russian-led customs union, rather than sign an association agreement with Armenia.

The rapid collapse last week of the Sargsyan government sends shock waves through Moscow because of visceral fears that a popular uprising could similar bring about the collapse of Russia’s government, led by President Vladimir Putin. Those who consider this idea far-fetched might think back to 1991, when a popular uprising led to the collapse of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, and its replacement by a government led by Boris Yeltsin.

In the last ten years, Russia has used military force in Ukraine and Georgia in the face of threats of the governments of those countries to align themselves with the European Union rather than Russia. Until last month, Armenia was safely on Russia’s team, but now that is no longer certain.

Prior to the election in parliament that rejected his bid to become prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan gave a speech outlining his policies, including the following “foreign policy”:

If I am elected, Armenia will not make turns in the foreign policy domain; it will remain a member of the EAEU and the CSTO. This position does not stem from a person’s taste, but the logic of the movement that brought victory to the people. Demanding numerous changes in domestic life, the people did not and do not demand any change in foreign policy domain. We considered and consider Russia the strategic ally of Armenia, and this movement does not pose any threat to the [Russian Federation].

We will deepen relations with the European Union and the EU member countries. We will do everything for the [Republic of Armenia] citizens toward the EU visa regime abolition; we expect to start negotiations on it in the nearest future. The soonest implementation of the EU-Armenia agreement stems from our own interests. The government that I will head will deepen relations with the US, China, will remain committed to the process of [Armenian] Genocide recognition; Armenia will continue playing the role of the pioneer on this matter.

Pashinyan’s speech could hardly have been reassuring to Russian officials. But the current situation, where Pashinyan was rejected by the legislature, and massive protests and demonstrations are continuing in the streets, can hardly be considered any better. Jamestown and News (Armenia) and Tass (Russia) and AFP (26-Apr)

Armenia in a generational Awakening era

According to some reports, Russian officials have been caught by surprise by the rapid collapse of the Serzh Sargsyan government, since they had expected Sargsyan to have used military force to stop the protests and remain in power. Perhaps the Russians were thinking of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, who stopped similar protests by sending missiles into school dormitories to kill children, or dropping barrel bombs laden with metal, chlorine, ammonia, phosphorous, and chemical weapons on civilian neighborhoods, or using Sarin gas to kill large groups of people.

For those interested in the theoretical aspects of Generational Dynamics, it is worth taking a moment to sort out what is happening.

As I described a couple of times, Armenia is in a generational Awakening era, one generation past the bloody conflict in 1989-94 versus Azerbaijan over the enclave Nagorno-Karabakh. In this sense, Armenia is similar to America in the 1960s, one generation past the end of World War II.

Every generational Awakening era (including the Unraveling era that follows) is politically torn by a “generation gap” that pits the traumatized survivors of the preceding crisis war versus their children, the generations that grow up after the crisis war and have no personal memories of its horrors and atrocities.

Regular readers know that there has been a great deal of theoretical development on how these Awakening eras differ, depending on whether the preceding crisis war was an external war with another country versus an internal crisis civil war between tribes and ethnic groups. In the former case, the two armies each withdraw from the other country, and further contact between the populations is done diplomatically. But in the latter case, the two populations to live with each other when the war ends – in the same country, the same villages and even on the same streets. This means that the hatred and the desire for revenge continue at a very personal level.

In the case of popular protests when the previous crisis war was an ethnic or tribal civil war, the protests are taken as a sign that the civil war is beginning again, and the government uses that as an excuse to use massacres, extrajudicial killings, jailings, torture, rape, and other atrocities on the political opposition. The extreme example is Bashar al-Assad, whom I have described is the worst genocidal monster and war criminal so far this century. But I have also described the same phenomenon, with varying levels of violence, with Paul Biya in Cameroon, Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Joseph Kabila in DRC, or, outside of Africa, Hun Sen in Cambodia and Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka.

But if the last crisis war was an external war, then popular protests are not viewed as posing a similar sort of threat and lead to an “Awakening climax” which is often a bloodless coup. This is what happened in America when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, and is what is happening now in Armenia with the forced resignation of Serzh Sargsyan.

It is impossible to predict how this political chaos in Armenia will sort itself out. Right now, it appears that Nikol Pashinyan is so popular, that one way or another he is going to become prime minister, after which probably the same mobs that put him into power will turn against him, and he will go from being the most popular to the most unpopular. The only thing we can be sure of is that the chaos is going to continue for some time to come, and the only thing that Russians can do is watch and see what happens. Pravda (Moscow) and Chai Khana (Georgia) and World Policy Institute

Related articles:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, Nikol Pashinyan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Richard Nixon, Ukraine, Georgia, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin
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