Armenian activists intensify ‘#ElectricYerevan’ protest against electricity price hike

Wed 24 Jun 2015

Armenian activists intensify ‘#ElectricYerevan’ protest against electricity price hike
Under the hashtag ElectricYerevan Armenian protestors today have continued what is one of the largest protests in Armenia’s capital in recent years. A day earlier over 200 protestors and journalists were arrested as they were marching towards the presidential palace, which the police tried to prevent by forming a barricade on one of Yerevan’s main roads, Baghramyan avenue.

The protestors demand that the Armenian authorities reverse a 17% price increase of electricity. President Serzh Sargsyan responded on Monday by saying he was willing to receive 3 or 4 activists if the other protestors were to cancel their march. The protestors refused and the march ended in violent arrests on Tuesday night. They have however, decided to continue their protest only several hours after the police interfered.

Dispersion of the protest
Several rows of police officers in full riot gear, backed up by water cannons, started charging towards the protestors. The activists sat on Baghramyan avenue for 9 hours and refused to leave in spite of several warnings in which the police said the protests were ‘unlawful’.

The activists however insisted that their protests were peaceful. Multiple demonstrators as well as journalists were beaten or injured. According to an Armenian police spokesman 237 protestors were detained and later released from custody.. The protestors dismissed multiple police warnings to end the march or face its violent disperse.

Peaceful protest
The protest originally started with a sit-in on Liberty Square on 19 June. It was initiated by the ‘No to Plunder’ movement. The non-partisan protest is considered to be a wide social protest with no particular political affiliation. Its main goal is to reverse the decision that increased the price of electricity by 17%. The authorities failed to meet the 22 June deadline set by the 'No to Plunder' movement leadership, which in turn meant the activists marched towards the presidential palace.

Not Euromaidan
Although the Russian controlled Armenian Electricity Network is responsible for the power distribution and the price increase, activists have repeatedly dismissed reports that the protests are anti-Russian. According to the company the price increase is necessary because of a fall in the value of the national currency.

Protestors also dismissed reports which compared the protests to the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine. According to Lexander Iskandaryan, a political expert and director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, the protests show a total lack of trust in the political system. The activists are demonstrating against the Armenian authorities, not against their Russian neighbour.
 
International concerns
The crackdown on the activists has received worldwide attention. The OSCE office in Armenia has expressed its concerns, stating that the right to peaceful assembly is essential to any democratic society. Dirk Lorenz, the acting head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, responded with a written statement and called reports on "excessive use of force" against a peaceful rally and violence directed against journalists "alarming." The U.S. embassy echoed these concerns, but praised the “responsible and generally respectful behaviour by both protestors and police”.

Support
The Yerevan activists have received support from other Armenians in cities such as Gyumri, who started their own protest following the police crackdown. The American-Armenian frontman of the renowned rock band System of a Down, Serj Tankian, also showed his support on twitter amongst others from the Armenian diaspora. The Armenian ombudsman, Karen Andreasyan, expressed his strong concerns over the police actions and decided to launch an investigation.

Meanwhile, independent Armenian MP Edmon Marukyan has urged other politicians and public figures to join the protesters and form a ‘living’ wall between the protestors and police officers. After midnight three dozen former and current opposition deputies, Education Minister Armen Ashotian, prominent Armenian artists and other public figures joined the protestors. They stood in between the protesters and security forces.

Continuation
As the activists coordinate their next actions on social media through hashtags such as ElectricYerevan and ProudToBeArmenian more and more are starting to take part in the demonstrations. The mentioned numbers vary but according to the Armenian Radio Free Europe service there are several thousand protestors on the streets of Yerevan.

A leader of the ‘No to Plunder’ movement have stated that they ”will keep fighting with the same demands till the end,” to which another added: “Their water cannons won’t scare us. We will be creating problems for them every day,”. A deputy chief of the police has stated that security forces will not again forcibly disperse the crowd provided that it avoids violence and other “provocations” against the servicemen.

Sources: news.am 1 2 3 4 5 6, Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, azatutyun 1 2 3tert.am
Picture: Pergamijn