The first protest in 20 days was downtown yesterday. I missed it.
First, the protest. By all accounts it was pretty impressive. Thousands of people turned out to walk slowly and silently through the center of Yerevan. No shouting, no chants. Lots of black armbands, flowers, and pictures of people killed in the March 1 shootings. Apparently much of the organizing was done on the Internet, especially via Facebook -- about which more anon.
The cops turned out in force, and the Army was around too, though tucked half out of sight by the Vernissage (big flea market). There were some scuffles when the cops suddenly decided to close a street. But on the whole it was pretty calm. If this sort of thing interests you, there are pictures here and a pretty good article over here.
But I can't tell you what it was like firsthand, because I missed it.
First, simple caution. The last protest got very ugly, with eight people dead and 100+ injured. I wasn't expecting this one would go that way, and it didn't, but still.
Okay, but thousands of Armenians (some say over 10,000) turned out. They were willing to take the chance, so why not me? The simple answer is because they have a stake in the outcome and I, frankly, don't. Maybe I should be a citizen of the world and stand up for justice wherever I am? I thought about this. The problem with that is, I don't see Levon Ter-Petrosian as all that much better than the current incumbents.
That said, I was still very tempted to go anyway. I was curious. And even if I dislike Ter-Petrosian I could still show passive support for the right of people not to be shot by their government. But what tipped me away was the strong suspicion that it will all end up being an exercise in futility.
I just don't see the good outcome here. The current government is firmly in control. A lot of people are pissed off, but the larger mass of the population doesn't seem to care much. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: I just don't have the feeling that Armenia is ready for a revolution or even a coup. There's just not a critical mass of popular resentment.
So what does this lead to? The government now knows that it can shoot people in the streets and the result will be... a large, sad, dignified protest. I don't see that this will make Kocharian or Sarkisian change their ways. In fact, "nothing changes" looks like the best outcome right now. The worst would be someone in the government losing their cool and deciding to crack some more heads.
I suppose it's possible that this protest is just a first step, laying the groundwork for the eventual overthrow of the current regime. But I doubt it.
That said, there were interesting aspects. I mentioned the Facebook thing. That's especially striking here in Armenia, where internet penetration levels are pretty low. Apparently there was a division of labor among the protesters -- some were doing crowd control, some recording everything on video -- and that's kind of impressive.
The government has tried to paint the events of late February and March 1 as a failed attempt at a "Color Revolution". This was, of course, mostly for Russian consumption; and the Russians have, of course, gobbled this up with a spoon. But it's nonsense. Ter-Petrosian isn't "pro-Western" nor particularly liberal. He's just a rival for power. And "people are pissed off at a stolen election" does not make a revolution, or even an attempt at one.
But while recent events weren't Colorful, they had some... Color-ish aspects. Which points towards something I've mentioned before: the techniques of the Color Revolutions are content-neutral. Anyone can use the Internet to organize. There may have been a brief period when this sort of thing was the exclusive province of hip savvy pro-Western young people, but that period is about to end if it hasn't already.
And that's about all the larger context I'm going to take here. At this point I just hope this ends well.