NEWSWATCH: “Saint Nick of Armenia: how protest leader Nikol Pashinyan ‘rescued’ Armenia and made it merry; Armenia’s intensive street mobilisation over the past month has taken many by surprise. Who is the man at the centre of these protests? [Excerpt]” – OpenDemocracy/Emil Sanamyan

Armenia Map and Flag

( – Emil Sanamyan – May 5, 2018)

Based in Washington DC, Emil Sanamyan writes mostly about the South Caucasus region and its adjacent states. Recently, he has been editing the Focus on Karabakh page at the USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies and blogging about Armenian politics at

[Complete text:]

Four months ago, Armenian parliamentary deputy Nikol Pashinyan, his spouse Anna Hakobyan and their daughter Arpi were on a New Year’s Eve programme on Armenia’s state-controlled Public TV. They were making idle talk about holiday routines when the anchor wondered if Pashinyan had asked Santa for anything political.

“I think in politics, people are the Santa Claus,” Pashinyan said. “And I want our people to realise that the notion that they cannot change anything is wrong, that in fact they decide their destiny.”

These words proved to be nothing short of prophecy. In just 10 days in April, acts of civil disobedience by a determined few snowballed into massive, unprecedented nationwide protests that forced Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s leader since 2008, to resign. And thanks to the protests, Pashinyan is now positioned to succeed Sargsyan.

More than anything, these events have become an exercise of power that Armenian citizens have never previously enjoyed. Since Armenia’s independence in 1991, incumbents have always won (or stolen) elections. Those who protested never reached the critical mass necessary to overcome the combination of state harassment and society’s widespread cynicism.

The chain of events in Armenia in the last few weeks has been so rapid, so seemingly profound, many Armenians might well come to believe that it involved some form of divine intervention, with 42-year-old Pashinyan representing the otherworldly in earthly form. The salt-and-pepper beard Pashinyan wears was grown specially for the protests, just like shopping mall Santas grow them for Christmas. With celebrations wrapping up, Pashinyan now faces huge public expectations. Can his now signature backpack fit enough gifts for everyone? …

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