Walked into central Yerevan today.
For those of you who haven’t been following this story: for the last two weeks, tens of thousands of Armenians have been turning out to protest the results of the recent Presidential election. The ruling party’s candidate supposedly won in a landslide, but there’s reason to think the elections were stolen. Yesterday morning, the government ran out of patience, declared a “state of emergency”, and sent a wave hundreds of police into the streets, followed by a second wave of soldiers. There are reliable reports of eight people dead and perhaps a hundred injured.
But that was yesterday. Last night Levon Ter-Petrosian, the losing presidential candidate, issued a statement asking his supporters to stand down. Today…
…well, it’s quiet.
Walking around downtown, most of the shops were closed. There were few cars — much of the center was closed to traffic — and maybe 50% of the normal pedestrian traffic, dropping to more like 10% in the big central squares. But there were people, and while the atmosphere was funny, I didn’t get a sense of imminent violence.
Soldiers are everywhere. Walking down Baghramian avenue, I passed half a dozen armored personnel carriers. About fifty soldiers were hanging around them, drinking coffee and talking; they seemed pretty relaxed. Another couple of platoons were deployed in Opera Square, which had been one of the centers for the daily protests. Pedestrians were still moving around the square, but the walked by quickly, without lingering, and so did I. Down in Republic Square, where the National Museum faces the Marriott Hotel, more soldiers, along with a scattering of jeeps and ambulances. (Oddly, I found the ambulances more worrying than the armored vehicles.)
The general mood of the city is… subdued. I talked to some friends and colleagues, including a couple who’d been in the demonstrations. They’re bitter; the government is justifying the crackdown by saying the demonstrators (who had bent over backwards to be peaceful) were violent, dangerous, and about to attempt a coup. The government-controlled TV stations (which is, at the moment, all of them) have been showing the same footage over and over again of guns and grenades allegedly found on protesters. I don’t find it very convincing, but I don’t think the government cares.
Speaking of media, the state of emergency gives the government formal control over all of them: by law, nobody can disseminate anything but official or officially approved information for the next 20 days. It’s unclear whether this applies to blogs, but at least one prominent local blogger believes that it does. In which case I would be breaking the law by hitting “publish” here.
There’s not a lot more to add. The US and the OSCE have condemned the violence. Russia has been silent. Don’t know about the EU. Again, I don’t get a feeling of simmering rage or imminent violence. Ter-Petrosian’s support was drawn disproportionately from the educated middle class, and I get the vibe that these people are willing to follow his lead and go home. Ter-Petrosian himself is under house arrest “for his own protection”. (It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts.) I’d like to give some analysis and put it all in a bigger context, but at the moment I’m too close.
And too bummed; the more I think about this, the more depressing it gets. Maybe in a day or two.