During the last week, Armenian civic activists were celebrating their “victory” against the municipality of Yerevan which raised the price of the public transportation justifying that move as a result of an earlier increase in the price for imports of natural gas from Russia. The rallies and protests that were organized by the activists forced the local authorities to concede and suspend the implementation of the decision. Although the issue seems to be at least temporarily solved, the rallies are still going on and the activists continue to stage a “sit in” at the front of the municipality building in Yerevan.
More specifically, this success was backed by several factors and reasons. First of all the actions were not politicized. Any politician that joined the rallies clearly announced that it is his/her personal initiative. So even if there were some officials and public figures supporting the activists, the parties did not make any supporting statements or announcements. On the other hand the group of the protesters was so diverse that any strong political support would fail. Moreover, in the beginning the protesters did not have any political agenda or political demands and emphasized the need of protection of the social rights.
Secondly, although the rallies started spontaneously the people were organized and had a strategy. The clear vision of and the relevant steps guaranteed the successful outcome. The people who served as the leaders and organizers were able to unify the people having the final goal in mind and keep their demands very specific, basic and reasonable. In addition to that the key actors of the protests did everything to keep the actions in legal frameworks. This made the rallies more organized and also any overreaction of the police irrelevant.
Third, the protesters were also very creative. Such actions as “Did you pay 100AMD? Let me hug you!” or carpool “FreeCar” were innovative and interesting ways to tackle the problem promoted the involvement of many people in the actions. Besides, they gave a positive cover to the rallies at the same time trying to emphasize that they are not fighting against someone/something negative but rather for something good.
The impact of the rallies will be more deep and important for Armenian society than it seems. First of all the culture of non-violent actions and civic disobedience became a part of Armenian political and civic culture which can be the cornerstone for promoting the responsible citizenship and civic activism in Armenia. Secondly, the people got a chance to see the real implementation of such terms as for example “democratic control of the society over the authorities.” This was a chance to see democracy in action. Thirdly, the municipality and authorities realized that it is very dangerous not to take the opinions, needs and expectations of the citizens into account while making political decisions.
The other side of the mirror…
The Armenian Weekly: Yerevan’s Bus Fare Protests: A Timeline