Armenian prime minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on Monday following widespread protests that erupted in the streets of Yerevan and other Armenian cities after he was voted into the position last Tuesday.
According to a New York Times article from Monday, Sargsyan’s was expected to step down from the country’s leadership, when his two-term limit as president elapsed earlier this month; instead, his right-wing Republican Party, dominant in parliament, voted him back into power as prime minister, a position empowered by a 2015 constitutional referendum.
“[Sargsyan] was the president for 10 years, from 2008 until 2018,” Assistant Professor of Russian Anna Aydinyan said. “Then he recently became a prime minister, which was interpreted as a power grab, and many people became angry.”
Sargsyan published a message on his website on Monday, outlining the reasons for his resignation. “I was wrong,” he said in the online statement. “I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of prime minister.” Sargsyan also gave a brief speech in which he framed his resignation as a concession to the demands of the people. “The street movement is against my tenure,” he said. “I am fulfilling your demand.”
Some people praised Sargsyan for effectively relinquishing power at the public’s request. “It was relatively nonviolent,” Aydinyan said. “Basically, [Sargsyan] said, ‘That’s what you want me to do. I’m a government, I serve you, so I’m resigning.’”
Aydinyan said that the current Armenian president thinks the recent unrest has more to do with the dearth of economic opportunities and a building sense of discontent among the public, rather than as a direct reaction to Sargsyan’s power play.
“Still, the main reasons for the protest, according to current Armenian president, Armen Sarkissian, is that the economic conditions did not improve for a long time, so people were just tired,” she said. “They didn’t see any kind of economic prospects. They accused the government of corruption and [also the] police.”
Aydinyan spoke of the economic hardships Armenia experienced after the fall of the Soviet Union. “When the Soviet Union collapsed, the entire economic system of the Soviet Union collapsed because it was all integrated with each other,” she said. “After that Armenia had a big earthquake in 1988, and before that there was Chernobyl in Ukraine.”
The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 was a catastrophic nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which cost the Soviet Union a fortune, caused hundreds of casualties, and wreaked havoc on the environment. Aydinyan said the effects on Armenian economy were devastating because, without a power plant, the country had no internal source of energy.
“There was environmentalist movement in Armenia … They made the Armenian government to shut down the nuclear power plant. After shutting down the nuclear power plant, Armenia became dependent on gas and energy coming from outside from Georgia and Russia.” She added that the country’s lack of raw materials only heightened its economic challenges in post-Soviet times. “Plus it’s very small, it doesn’t have any kind of natural resources like oil or anything to sell,” Aydinyan said.
Aydinyan said that these historical factors have led to an increasing sense of disillusionment among Armenians: “I’m assuming that because of this isolation the economic situation doesn’t improve that much and people are simply tired.”
She said the political protests mask a deeper economic dread that looms over the tiny Southern Caucasus country. “People inside Armenia say that it’s probably not about being Western or Russian,” she said. “It’s not a political protest but more a social [one], about poverty.”