An Armenian rhapsody

Spontaneous mass protests in the former Soviet state of Armenia have ended a deceitful power play by a longtime ruler to stay in office. In throwing off their fears, Armenians showed others in repressive countries how to ‘live in the truth.’

AP Photo
People celebrate the April 23 resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan after massive anti-government protests.

In many countries of the former Soviet empire, people still live in fear of their regimes. In Armenia, a landlocked nation of nearly 3 million deemed “partly free” by Freedom House, that was certainly the case until this week.

Protesters could easily be killed, as they were in 2008. Two-thirds of people would not report a corrupt act if they witnessed one, according to a poll. Moscow keeps 3,000 troops in Armenia, whose oligarchs resemble those in Russia. And a quarter of the population has emigrated in the past quarter century under the dominant rule of the Republican Party of Armenia and its business cronies.

But on April 23, after 11 days of nonviolent protests in major cities, Armenians threw off their fears and began to “live in the truth,” as Vaclav Havel, the late Czech dissident, advised those living under the sham appearances of authoritarianism. They withdrew their consent to the effective one-party system and forced longtime ruler Serzh Sargsyan to step down after a blatant attempt to stay in power.

The size of the protests, which were largely leaderless and spontaneous, was so overwhelming that Mr. Sargsyan did not merely resign. He seemed contrite over his deceitful attempts to extend his tenure. “I was wrong,” he said in a statement, even admitting that the main opposition figure, Nikol Pashinyan, was right about the need for him to leave.

In recent decades, nonviolent civil resistance movements have reshaped much of the former Soviet empire, from Poland to Ukraine, as well as countries from Tunisia to the Philippines. Long-submissive people suddenly decided to no longer live a lie and instead chose to deny the legitimacy of repressive rulers. Armenia’s “velvet revolution” is particularly timely. In recent years, democracy in the former communist states of Europe has been in decline, according to Freedom House.

Armenians are a highly educated people. Yet nearly one-third live in poverty. In a global index on corruption, the country ranks among the worst. They have seen how Russian President Vladimir Putin has clung to power since 1999 by a mix of political tricks and repression. The protesters in Armenia said they did not want Sargsyan to “pull a Putin.”

Sargsyan is gone, but for now his party remains in power. The force of the mental shift away from fear by Armenians, however, has removed the pillars from under the regime. After rising up to live in truth, they may not be denied freedom.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to An Armenian rhapsody
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today