Reflections on the #RejectSerzh Movement
By Lexi Davitian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
The symphony of car horns honking in support has become the soundtrack to our lives here. People chanting, fists pounding the air demanding justice…. I have been living in Armenia for about a year now. I have heard about corruption, witnessed it, and even have been a victim of it. With that being said I have spent some of the most incredible months of my life here.
Life in Hayastan is not perfect, but can you tell me one place that is? I personally am not supporting Nikol or Serzh, and have met many others who feel the same. After they had taken him, the people fought harder and stronger! With that being said, Nikol has become a huge symbol of hope and guidance for this revolution. Upon his release as we walked through the streets, I could see tears down so many faces, as their hearts were recharged by the sight of him.
Marching alongside the citizens of Armenia has helped me come to the conclusion that we are all here for the same reason: Hayastan.
Unfortunately, we do not have all of the answers to what happens next… Whatever happens, I was proud, as an Armenian American from Florida, to march alongside people who finally feel hope for change in their lives in Hayastan. A country that once felt like an endless tunnel now has a light that grows brighter with each day.
On April 23, 2018 Serzh Sarkissian officially stepped down making all of sleepless nights, and days spent walking worth it. The celebration is filled with contagious joy. Everyone in the streets smiling and hugging each other in congratulation, shaking hands with the officers that were just the day before holding us back. Now the cheers of victory echo throughout Hayastan. Smiling faces greet each other, while the people now walk around with their heads held high in a victory they so highly deserve!
Lexi Davitian is an Armenian American photographer currently living in Yerevan, Armenia. She is originally from Hollywood, Florida.
Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan Resigns
On Monday, April 23, 2018, the newly installed Prime Minister of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, resigned amid 10 days of rallies and protests in Yerevan calling for his resignation. The peaceful protests were led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan of the Civic Contract Party, who was arrested the night before, along with 2 other Members of Parliament. All three were released hours before Sargsyan’s resignation. Below is Serzh Sargsyan’s statement:
I am addressing all citizens of the Republic of Armenia,
The elderly and my dearest youth,
Men and women,
I am addressing those who stood on the streets day and night with “Reject Serzh” calls and those who were reaching their offices with difficulty and carrying out their duty without complaining,
I am addressing those who were following the live broadcast for days and those who were ensuring public order for day and night mainly,
I am addressing our courageous soldiers and officers who are standing at the border, I am addressing my brothers in arms,
I am addressing my fellow party-men, all political forces and politicians,
I am addressing you for the last time as leader of the country.
Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong. The situation has several solutions, but I will not take any of them. That is not mine. I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of Prime Minister.
The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand.
I wish peace, harmony and reasoning for our country. Thank you.”
Following his resignation, Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karaptyan was sworn in as Prime Minister.
“On behalf of the U.S. government and people I want to praise the Armenian people for peacefully and worthily conducting their protest during the past week”, U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills told reporters as he visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial on April 24.
The “Reject Serzh” movement began on March 31 in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. Pashinyan and about a dozen activists began a march from Gyumri to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Along the way, the crowds grew. Days after reaching Yerevan, the crowds reached over 100,000 people, mostly young people who rejected the Putin-model of government that is sweeping across the region.
In the days before Sargsyan’s resignation, about 250 activists were arrested along with Pashinyan, and things looked like they were about to boil over. During the 2008 protests in Armenia, 10 people were killed and hundreds arrested. However, this time was different – not a single shot was fired. There were some reports of violence, but nothing on the scale of previous protest movements. In fact, some members of the Armenian military and police joined the protesters. In the end, Sargsyan heard the calls of the people and stepped aside.
U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Armenia, Artsakh
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), David Valadao (R-CA), and Jackie Speier (D-CA), along with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) returned from Armenia with a better understanding of the challenges facing the region. Reps. Valadao, Pallone, and Gabbard also visited Artsakh.
Reflecting on his past trips to Armenia and Artsakh, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pallone stated: “The progress of the country economically and politically is immediately evident. I visited Armenia several times in the 1990s and early 2000s. Great strides have been made in terms of economic development and improvements in the political system since then.” He continued: “Overall, this trip was a great opportunity for Armenia Caucus members to learn what we need to follow-up on when we’re back in Congress to improve U.S.-Armenian relations with regards to trade, military cooperation, and many other areas.”
The four-day trip, from September 18-21, allowed for several face-to-face meetings with high-level government officials. The delegation met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who acknowledged the Congressional Delegation’s visit as a crucial step towards strengthening Armenia’s relations with the United States, and expressed his gratitude for their efforts towards deepening bilateral relations in all areas.
They also met Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, National Assembly Speaker Ara Babloyan, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Deputy Foreign Minister Ashot Hovakimian, and His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at Holy Etchmiadzin.
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Valadao said: “Living in the Central Valley, I have heard many stories and descriptions of Armenia from my neighbors and friends. Having the opportunity to experience the country they love firsthand was an unforgettable and enlightening experience. In addition to visiting historic landmarks and learning more about the Armenian culture, I met Armenian business leaders and government officials, examining the positive impact of the strong bond between our two nations.”
In addition to official meetings with the leadership of Armenia and Artsakh, the delegation met with Syrian refugees who found shelter in Armenia, the business community, and beneficiaries of U.S.-funded projects. They also went on special tours and visited American University of Armenia, Impact Hub Yerevan, Megerian Carpet Museum, and Armenia Fund’s rehabilitated music school.
“I saw first-hand the enormous contributions that the diaspora has made to build a bright future for Armenia. The hospitalities extended were second to none, whether it was a visit to the American University of Armenia, to winemakers or music students, Armenia is on the move with a deep determination to continue building a just and democratic society. I left the country with a great sense of gratitude and pride,” Rep. Eshoo stated. “My recent visit to Armenia as it celebrated its 25th year of independence, was an extraordinary experience for me personally and as a Member of Congress. I believe the trip strengthened the relationship between the United States and Armenia, and it also deepened my understanding of the challenges the country has and how the United States can be a helpful partner,” she continued.
Rep. Sensenbrenner previously visited Armenia in 1991 and had the opportunity to observe the Armenian referendum, during which 95% of the population voted for independence from the Soviet Union. He witnessed the country during a crucial transition period as it took its first steps towards democracy, and was able to return many years later to see how the nation developed. The Congressional Delegation’s visit coincided with Armenia’s Independence Day on September 21.
“The need for cooperation between our two countries is ongoing, and this diplomatic mission was important to strengthen relationships and continue to keep lines of communication open. U.S. support has helped bolster Armenian democratic institutions and civil society, and our two countries must continue to work together to advance these interests. The U.S. and Armenia share strong bonds, as America is one of the largest destinations for the Armenian diaspora,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said. “These Armenians have gone on to contribute greatly to their new homes, as well as being influential in the continued struggle for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
At the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, the U.S. legislators laid flowers at the eternal fire of the Armenian Genocide Monument and observed a moment of silence in tribute to the victims.
Rep. Gabbard noted: “One major issue that continues to be unresolved, is global recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. It is unconscionable that the United States government still has not formally recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide. I stand with Armenians in America and around the world in condemning the Armenian Genocide, and I call on my colleagues to adopt House Resolution 220 so we never forget, or repeat, the suffering endured by the Armenian people.”
Armenian American Rep. Eshoo added: “Despite efforts beginning in 1975 to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, Congress has yet to acknowledge what took place 102 years ago. The deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities by the Ottoman Empire is a fact that must be acknowledged by the United States. Likewise, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved and the Minsk Group is important to this effort.”
Members of the delegation met with Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan and National Assembly Speaker Ashot Ghoulyan. During these meetings, they discussed the latest developments in the Artsakh peace process, the role of international organizations in preventing border incidents, as well as the efforts of the Armenian Caucus in strengthening U.S. relations with Armenia and Artsakh. President Sahakyan honored Reps. Pallone, Speier, and Eshoo with Medals of Gratitude for their longtime and substantial contribution to the recognition of the Republic of Artsakh.
Speaker Ghoulyan emphasized the importance of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Artsakh, and acknowledged the latest amendment introduced by Rep. Valadao to ensure continued U.S. support to the de-mining process in Artsakh. Last month, Rep. Valadao spearheaded a bipartisan amendment along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Armenian Caucus Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Pallone, and Rep. Speier to ensure continued funding for de-mining projects in Artsakh.
Reps. Pallone and Gabbard traveled to Artsakh by helicopter with Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian, Artsakh Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and Armenia Fund, Inc. President Maria Mehranian. The U.S. Representatives addressed the Artsakh Republic National Assembly during one of its sessions. Rep. Pallone described Artsakh as a state with a legitimate government, which declared independence consistent with international law, and has built an effective political structure. Rep. Gabbard emphasized the importance of the United States’ active involvement in the peace process and expressed support for the legitimate right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination.
“The resilience and courage I witnessed in the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh region who remain in an ongoing conflict over their independence, further demonstrates our shared values of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. We must support a diplomatic resolution to this ongoing conflict, such as what has been proposed by the Minsk Group (made up of the United States, France, and Russia), to allow for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to exercise their freedom and independence,” Rep. Gabbard said in a statement.
Rep. Valadao also traveled to Artsakh and met with The HALO Trust to learn more about mine clearance along the borders. Following his visit, he stated: “Families in Nagorno Karabakh live under the constant threat of landmine accidents and I am grateful for the efforts of The HALO Trust to make Nagorno Karabakh a more safe and secure region.” Rep. Valadao continued, “While their work is renown worldwide, I appreciated witnessing their work and learning more about their efforts and dedication firsthand.”
The six Members of Congress are part of an exchange with Armenian Members of Parliament who are expected in Washington, D.C. in the coming months.
Click here to read the full statements by the Members of Congress who participated in the U.S. Congressional Delegation to Armenia.