As It Happens

Massive protests in the streets of Armenia have turned into celebrations

Anger has turned to jubilation in the streets of Armenia after a move by the ruling party appeared to clear the way for a popular opposition leader to become prime minister.

'We have a victory,' protester says after government clears path for opposition leader to become PM

Armenian opposition supporters shout slogans after protest movement leader Nikol Pashinyan announced a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience at Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, on Wednesday morning. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Anger has turned to jubilation in the streets of Armenia after a surprising move by the ruling party appeared to clear the way for a popular opposition leader to become the country's prime minister.

On a fast-moving day of turmoil that began with crowds blocking roads, railways and the airport in the capital of Yerevan, the head of the ruling Republican Party's faction in parliament said Wednesday it would vote May 8 for any prime ministerial candidate nominated by a third of the body's 105 members.

That effectively promised the job to protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, just one day after parliament rejected him.

Pashinyan told a Wednesday evening rally that his Elk party and the two other opposition factions would nominate him on Thursday. Together, that puts Pashinyan well over the one-third mark set by the Republicans, who said they will not nominate a candidate of their own.

Sam Martirosyan was protesting, but now he's celebrating. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the mood on the streets of Yerevan. 

Here is part of that conversation.

Sam, what is the mood in Yerevan tonight?

The mood is actually very festive. People are celebrating. And yeah — we have a victory.

Did you think this was going to happen? Did you think it was possible that the opposition and all these street protests could lead to this? 

I couldn't even imagine that the protest would be so huge and so many people would be involved.

I was quite pessimistic in the beginning, but when [Pashinyan] came to Yerevan and everybody joined in and when this started brewing up ... it was clear that this is going to be something that Armenia has never seen before.

I don't think people could imagine that such a wave of protest could fill the whole of Armenia.

Pashinyan called Wednesday for the protests to take a break after a surprising move by the ruling party appeared to clear the way for him to become prime minister. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

He was like the Pied Piper, wasn't he? He started to walk with just a handful of people, and as he walked along the way to Yerevan, they gathered by the hundreds and thousands. And then there were tens of thousands in the city, I understand, in the past days.

He walked and when he came to Yerevan, there was another protest that wasn't that much connected to his walking.

It was a short protest against Serzh Sargsyan, [who] used to be president for two terms for 10 years, and then he was nominated to become a prime minister, and then his nomination was accepted into parliament by the majority of Republicans.

So there was a small group that was protesting Sargsyan's nomination, and when Nikol Pashinyan came, they joined in, and then students joined in, and then little by little, everybody came out in the streets.

Serzh Sargsyan led Armenia as president for 10 years, but stepped down because of term limits. Then parliament named him prime minister under a new government structure that gave the post greater powers. Protesters ousted him, saying the move effectively allowed him to remain as leader indefinitely. (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

And you mentioned Serzh Sargsyan, who was the president then he became the prime minister. He's been there for 10 years. It was so astonishing just last week when he just said: OK, you win, I'm stepping down, I'm not going to do this. How did people react to that was that? Was that your first moment of victory?

It was it was like a celebration of this whole thing, that all this protest sort of ended up in revolution.

It was a huge celebration in Yerevan.

I want to ask you just a little bit about Nikol Pashinyan, this opposition leader who has who has brought down the government, basically. 

At one time he was a journalist. He was thrown into prison for his opposition, for starting protests against corrupt parliament. What kind of a prime minister is he going to be? 

He's going to be prime minister for the interim government that is going to be formed.

The main function and the purpose of this interim government will be to ... make some changes in the legislation for the new parliamentary elections.

I think, considering how legitimate he is right now in Armenia, how he is accepted, this goal of his will eventually, will  hopefully become a reality in the end.

He has mentioned many times that free and fair, truly free elections, parliamentary elections without any bribes and without any frauds are just crucial for the country's political economic and social stability.

Protesters opposed to the government blocked roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday. (Sergei Grits/Associated Press)

He's obviously a very, very effective protest leader for Armenia. His critics in your country are saying ... he's just brought chaos to the streets. He's not a statesman, he's not going to be a very good prime minister. What do you say to his critics?

I think time will show.

I think he's a very good organizer, he's a very charismatic leader and there's this idea, this notion, that he's not a good manager is actually not true because he has managed this protest very well, and that's exactly why we have this situation that we have now.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.