Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Armenia’s idea of an Inauguration

Great way to sum up today...with Paul Vartan.

9 April 2013. The date of the Presidential inauguration of Armenia. Far from honorable or majestic, Mr. Serzh Sargsyan toasted to a continuation of his glorious 5 years as Armenia’s demon lord Voldemort. Not sure how many goons attended his façade, but the number couldn’t compare to the amount of people gathered at Liberty Square to inaugurate the President that they elected, Raffi Hovannisian. 

I’ll try to give a play by play, as I was present for a lot of the chaos that proceeded. At 11 am, the people gathered at Liberty Square to begin the celebration and welcoming of President Hovannisian. Hovannisian delivered a somewhat lengthy speech, accompanied by a ‘people’s oath’, where he was sworn in as the elected official. He announced at the end of his speech that he would continue the demonstration at 6pm, where the people would march to the presidential palace at Baghramyan 26 to confront the usurper demon lord. The energy level at the meeting was very high, and the people were disappointed that there wasn’t anything for them to do ‘hima’ (now). I stood there – confused and trying to figure out what was going on. Raffi told the people to go home, eat something, take care of their kids, and then return at 6pm. The decision to postpone the continuation until 6 pm was highly controversial, and in my opinion, not well planned. Somehow a march started, where Raffi led the troops all around the city. 

This city tour started at about 2 pm. We marched through Northern Avenue, down to the Republic Square and stopped at the Stepan Shahumian statue. I couldn’t get a handle on how many people joined the march, but the crowd increased as we walked up Mashdots at around 2:30. The road was closed off, presumably for Serzh and his army (actually Armenia’s army). The tourist police held their line to prohibit citizens from walking on the street. Team Raffi was encouraging onlookers to join the march, to end their self driven despair. I think sometimes being young and a woman can be just the right combination to get people moving. Yelling ‘yegek, miatsek!’ (come together) while making eye contact with a person really puts the pressure on them to make the next move. They’ll either close the door to their apartment, or nod their head and come down and join the movement. Getting people to take matters into their own hands is a new concept in Armenia so progress is slow.
The walk continued to Proshyan street, where the crowd got rained on. We were stopped at the Demirchyan/Proshyan intersection by police and special forces, prohibiting Raffi from continuing up to Baghramyan. One of the most memorable quotes from this spot is "We are the Armenians and they [police] are the Turks!"

The rent-a-cops encroached on Raffi and the people as I made obnoxious comments to police officers. The rain, thunder, and lightning only added suspense to this bleak outlook. I stood with a friend, Vartan, determined to see this thing through. Eventually we continued down Demirchyan, another street that leads to Baghramyan. I thought to myself, ‘great, I can run upstairs and get some water and a sweatshirt’. Coming around the curve, we found ourselves once again blocked off by police – this time with metal riot shields. I don’t know if anyone found them intimidating, but I couldn’t control the troll in me and took a picture in front of them. So far the march was peaceful – the police didn’t do much except watch and tell people to follow arbitrary rules that probably don’t exist. 
Round one - the star locates where we were blockaded by police.

We made it back to Liberty Square, where I split off with some of Raffi’s family and friends to grab a bite to eat. Amongst such kind and loving people, I allowed myself to inhale a gyro. It’s incredible that we even made it to 4 pm without food or water. At least for me…I tend to get grumpy when I’m hungry. At around 5:30, we reconnected with Raffi and some of his friends who happen to be my mutual friends of my dad from like 30 years ago (Hi Raffi Sarafian!). We walked together, arm in arm, to Liberty Square, where Raffi would address the people again as planned. 

I had the pleasure of being somewhat of a security force around the podium and stage area where Raffi speaks. It is incredible how many people don’t respect boundaries. Old ladies and drunk guys were constantly encroaching on our border, each one thinking they have some sort of right to stand wherever the heck they want. There was one old guy in particular – he was not listening to our demands for him to step back and shut up. I could feel my arms tightening up in anger. I looked at him with my infamous death glare and told him to walk back. With Raffi S. and Larisa, friends of the family, we held our ground. While the crowd seemed somewhat weaker than before, Raffi announced something about continuing our demands on Friday, when the crowd booed demanding that something be done now. He then announced that we would be walking to the palace then and now.
The mass was just as crazy as you would picture at a music festival. We originally wanted to stay close to Raffi and Armenouhi but couldn’t get through because of the uncontrollable crowd. Larisa and I grabbed arms and tried not to get trampled. We ran past the cars on Sayat Nova to get in front of the crowd. Upon doing so, we got closer and closer to Baghramyan 26, where a riot shield force 4 layers deep was waiting for us. Since I am a Call of Duty aficionado, I know just what to do – a sticky grenade and claymore should do the trick! (Just kidding of course…but really)

We were on the left side of the mass, while Raffi, Garin, Alec, and Armenouhi were in the middle. Some people began throwing rocks and things at the riot squad to provoke them. The mob pushed their way into the squad, trying to breach. We got shoved around and decided to not get trampled just yet. The riot squad warned us and told us to move back. I was astonished frankly, that they would threaten two women who weren’t doing anything. Someone even asked the guards – “Would you hit this old man? Would you hit these women?” Without hesitation, they answered ‘yes’. The shields slammed into our bodies. Larisa and I held our ground and used our weight and muscle as leverage to push back and not fall. I bet those guards were surprised – and hopefully afraid – of two skinny women!
Riot Shield squad vs. CITIZENS

Thankfully we didn’t get hurt. At this point, we hadn’t seen or heard from Garin or Alec in a while. Larisa’s phone battery died, so we used my phone to best keep in touch with what was going on. Somehow in all the chaos, Alec got arrested, one of the opposition’s highest leaders had his nose broken, and several others were injured. Raffi and several others were led back down towards Opera, when we later found out that they had walked to the Genocide Memorial, some 4 miles away. Half of the crowd joined them, while a couple thousand stayed with the riot wall, attempting a sit in. Several hours pass. At 10pm, we were rejoined by Raffi and Garin – even though we were told only 5 minutes previously to go back to Opera, where they would be. Dodging massive cameras and media clowns, we got close enough to show that we are okay and ready for more!

Eventually the guards ‘let’ us walk up Baghramyan – although not on the side of the palace, and we were supposed to stay on the sidewalk for ‘our own safety’. I presume safety doesn’t apply to riot shields. See, I always liked using the riot shield on Call of Duty because it annoyed people. I guess I kinda know what it is like now. +100…wait for it…fucking riot shielder!

The walk proceeded again past my house, which was so tempting, but alas I continued with team Raffi down to the square. Armenouhi embraced me and gave me a very thankful hug. The team exchanged hugs and goodnights and we parted ways, waiting what the next days would bring.

Star is where the 4 layer riot shields were. We doubled back down past the palace on the way back.

The day’s decisions are up for debate and complains, but that’s none of my business. Questions from today:
Where did these police come from? I’ve never seen this many in Yerevan before.
Why did they prohibit us from walking by the Presidential Palace? It’s not like we’d be able to hop the fence or anything. Unless we’re playing Plants vs. Zombies…
What does banging on a riot shield mean? We aren’t dogs. I don’t respond to noise.
Where is your honor, Armenia? Do you think hurting civilians is the way to make reparations with the people you lied to?

Serzh – go jump off a bridge. Or get run over by a marshrutka. That’s not a question, it’s a demand. 

Yes family/friends who were checking up on me: I couldn’t control getting into the action, and no I’m not hurt. In other news BORUSSIA DORTMUND halbfinale in a stunning win over Malaga! 

What would you do?

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