If you’re looking for some good news from a faraway land, here’s a tale of Armenia’s “velvet revolution,” which just deposed a corrupt, authoritarian government and installed a team of eager young reformers to govern a tiny nation perilously bordering Russia.
Maybe it’s the start of a counter-trend, in a world where so many indicators of freedom and good governance have been pointing downward. But it must be said: Time is not on the revolutionaries’ side. The squeeze on Armenia, from its neighbors and domestic power brokers, could undo the gains of the bottom-up protest movement that toppled the long-entrenched, pro-Moscow government of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan.
For now, there’s something of a festival atmosphere here, as Armenians enjoy the aftermath of what the new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, described to me as a “revolution of love and solidarity.” Bands play in the streets, people spontaneously cheer Pashinyan in public, and the post-Soviet haze seems, for now, to have cleared.
Pashinyan spoke with me for an hour last Friday at his grand office on Republic Square, in the center of the capital. He looked slightly uncomfortable in a dark business suit. The popular image of him is of a guy in a baseball cap who led a march on the capital that grew so large it paralyzed the government. Barricading the streets were jazz musicians atop a piano, a chamber quartet and a young boy halting traffic with a line of toy trucks.
The protests had become so widespread that Sargsyan faced a choice of using force on fellow citizens or stepping down. In a nation whose political identity is tied to its tragic history, Sargsyan wisely chose the latter: On April 23, the day before the annual commemoration of the 1915 Ottoman genocide that killed more than 1 million Armenians, Sargsyan resigned.
The miracle of this revolution is that it happened at all. Russia had long supported Sargsyan and his oligarch cronies. But in May, after Sargsyan’s fall, the Kremlin didn’t block Pashinyan’s accession to prime minister. That’s partly because Pashinyan declared, as he told me, that his movement had “no geopolitical agenda.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin could still make life very difficult for the new Armenia. In Yerevan last weekend, I heard reports from diplomats that if Moscow doesn’t receive new pledges of fealty, it might