Enough is enough: that’s what thousands of protesters in Yerevan thought in the past four weeks, when they made a stand against the Armenian government – among them also many AEGEE members. The reason might sound small: the government increased the price for electricity. However, in practice this would have had severe consequences. Moreover, for the protesters it was more than an argument about electricity – it was a fight about empowerment, about taken seriously. AEGEE members were on the streets day and night. One of them was former AEGEE-Yerevan President and AEGEE-Europe Policy Officer Armenak Minasyants. “During the overnights I was staying in the buffer-zone, which was formed between the riot police and protesters’ barricades”, he told the Golden Times. His conclusion of the protests, which became known under the name #ElectricYerevan: “AEGEEans are ready to protect their fundamental rights!”

On the left: Armenak Minasyants

GT: Armenak, #ElectricYerevan ended a week ago. What was it about?
Armenak Minasyants: It all started from an energy price rise of 0.02 Euros… This amount may sound very funny for someone from the EU, but in Armenia, where the average salary is just 220 Euros, it means a lot. What the Armenian government announced on 17th of June was after all a price raise for electricity of 16%! At the same time, it means that there will be raise of prices on everything else. Armenia’s electricity network is owned by a Russian company, which stated that the rise is necessary because of the debts of the company – or simply said, the Armenian citizens shall pay for the poor management of this Russian-owned company.

electricyerevan1GT: So people started protesting?
Armenak: The announcement immediately boosted the anger among the population and took out to streets thousands of young people, who firstly gathered at the Freedom Square in Yerevan. On 22nd of June the protesters moved to Baghramyan Avenue, where the buildings of the President’s administration, parliament and constitutional court are located. On the following day, at 5:30 in the morning, the riot police attacked the protesting crowd with water-cannon and detained 237 people. This immediately boosted a new protest wave which took to streets around 15,000 protesters, who blocked Baghramyan Avenue and made barricades from rub containers. This avenue became the symbol of resistance. The city was really electrified for another two weeks, till the barricades were removed by the police.

electricyerevan2GT: Did you manage to achieve something?
Armenak: I may say that something has been achieved, as the President of Armenia made a statement and ceased the raise of the electricity price rate, which was planned to enter into force from 1st of August. On the other hand, he suggested to launch an impartial international audit that will check the standings of the Russian company, which owns shares of the electricity providing company of Armenia. These can be, definitely, considered as achievements, but it is not like that every demand of movement is satisfied, as if the mentioned audit will not find any frauds the price will be raised, anyway. More notably, almost nobody from the riot police members have been punished for excessive use of force on morning of 23rd of June. Personally for me, the biggest achievement of last month is, that the Armenian youth has realized that it has huge potential and strength to make real transformative changes in Armenia. Some 25 years ago, our fathers and mothers managed effectively to overcome the Soviets tyranny and now it is our turn to make the footprint. The young people in Armenia do not want to live anymore with a dream of better future, as Armenia is a vibrant country, with lots of transformative potential and wonderful people.

GT: How did AEGEE contribute to it?
Armenak: First of all, AEGEE-Europe’s Comite Directeur made a very strong condemnation statement on police brutality and called the sides for constructive dialogue. At the same time, we had around 15-20 members of AEGEE-Yerevan who were directly involved in #ElectricYerevan protests. They are AEGEEans of different generations, starting from members with whom I was making my very first steps in AEGEE some five years ago and finishing up with our 18-year old newcomers.

electricyerevan5GT: What did you and your members do?
Armenak: Our members were helpful at Baghramyan Avenue. They were bringing gallons of water for everyone, they were on the barricades, they were posting in English on Twtitter and Facebook, they were having turns for overnights and they were involved in sit-in demonstrations. We all think that AEGEE is not only about summer universities, parties and fun. This organization empowers and educates young people, makes them better Europeans and urges to think out of box and whenever it is required – AEGEEans are ready to protect their fundamental rights! We have so many similar stories from Gezi Park in Istanbul or Maidan Nezhalezhnosty in Kyiv and now also from #ElectricYerevan in Armenia. The content and aims of all mentioned movements were different, but the intention of AEGEE members to be a part of the process was the same.

electricyerevan7GT: You were also staying overnight on the streets. Can you describe the atmosphere?
Armenak: At Baghramyan Avenue I immediately felt the very positive energy of this crowd, something very patriotic, which boosts your national pride. People were dancing and singing old Armenian songs, some were sitting on the ground and playing chess, which is the most popular game in Armenia; the rest gathered on the other part of the avenue for public discussions. I was mostly impressed with the extremely peaceful atmosphere among the crowd: no aggressive rhetoric, no offensive or political chants, no robberies or criminals around. During the overnights I was staying in the buffer-zone, which was formed between the riot police and protesters’ barricades.

GT: Sounds like a dangerous place!
Armenak: The idea was simple, as people in the buffer-zone should not allow any provocation or more violence happen. Alongside with me there were many public figures, members of the Armenian parliament, officials, local celebrities and civil society representatives. I made most of the overnights, almost without sleeping, thus dropping some updates on Facebook or other media, like Al Jazeera, BBC Turk, Euronews, Hromadske TV, as they were lacking reports and comments in English.

electricyerevan6GT: Weren’t you afraid?
Armenak: You know, even in this very tough situation, when almost at any moment the riot police may attack you and break up the self-made barricades, the Armenian people were making jokes and fun, as always. One boy brought a big banner and had written on it “My Water-Cannon Is Much Bigger than Yours”.

GT: Are the protests over for good or is there a chance that the people will go on the streets again?
Armenak: This is Armenia, I cannot exclude anything. If the government will not seriously assess the public pressure and will keep on making non-adequate social policies, we will probably witness much more organized and bigger protests in Armenia.

More info: