Yerevan, Armenia – This weekend, traffic flowed freely through Yerevan’s broad avenues. Buskers played Armenian folk songs to tourists. The calm was unsettling.
Because of late, Nikol Pashinyan’s so-called Velvet Revolution has exercised true people power – the ability to conjure up a storm of support on request.
Pashinyan, whose protest movement began with a Gandhi-inspired march of non-violence on March 31, is widely expected to be chosen by parliament as Armenia’s new prime minister on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in just a few short weeks. Appealing to Armenians of all ages, his straight talk and promises to rid the country of an oligarchic, nepotistic political system have resonated with the younger generation, frustrated by a lack of opportunities.
“Nikol says, ‘We need to close the roads’ – the roads get closed. He says, ‘Nothing must happen’ – nothing happens. People just worship him,” says Ghevond, 26.
Ghevond is a classically-trained ballet dancer, but he currently works as a hotel doorman.
“If it stays the same way, in a couple of years there’ll be nobody left here,” he says Ghevond, adding that he is ready to head to Russia as soon as he gets his passport.
“My best friend of 24 years, he left a month ago to America, forever. We all understand that it will be hard, but there is simply no other option. Nikol must be made prime minister.”
Parliament to decide on new PM
That was an impossibility for a marginal politician just a few weeks ago but now nothing appears to stand in the way of Pashinyan, whose movement forced Serzh Sargsyan – the unpopular former president-turned-prime minister – from office on April 23.
Nothing, that is, but for 55 members of parliament from Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party, who have resisted calls from the street to hand over power.
Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan speaks to Al Jazeera
And as long they hold a majority in Armenia’s National Assembly, nobody can quite predict when Pashinyan’s Velvet Revolution will be able to claim total victory.
Last week, a vast, expectant crowd in the Armenian capital’s Republic Square watchrf on large TV screens the Republicans voting down Pashinyan’s candidacy for prime minister in a first ballot.
This time, they have promised not to stand in the way of the candidate who secures one-third of the parliamentary vote. That man is still Pashinyan. But so far, the Republican leadership appears reluctant even to call him by his name.
Ruben Malayan, an artist whose placards are frequently held aloft by opposition supporters at the rallies, says he’s feeling positive but cautious ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
“I still have doubts about it. Maybe it’s because I am convinced they [the Republicans] are not people of principles. They lied many times before and cheated. It’s just that if they do it this time again it would practically be a suicidal move. There is still a chance that they have lost the slightest touch with reality and might do something like that,” Malayan says.
Republic Square rallies
On Monday night, Republic Square resounded again with music and the blaring of car horns. Pashinyan welcomed Serj Tankian to a stage erected ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The famous lead singer of System of Down flew in to throw his support behind the Armenian people.
System of a Down is one of Armenia’s greatest known contemporary cultural exports and Tankian’s visit reflects the opposition movement’s appeal, not just among Armenians in Armenia but among the diaspora of millions of Armenians who live abroad, and have an interest in seeing this revolution reach its conclusion.
“The entire world is looking at you as an example, with smiles on your faces you reached your goal. The world for years has known Armenia as a place of genocide, earthquake and war, but with this movement you raise our entire nation’s image,” Tankian told a cheering crowd.
On Monday evening, Pashinyan dispensed with his trademark camouflage T-shirt and baseball cap, opting for a suit and tie, perhaps readying himself for the next step that may follow Tuesday’s vote.
Having seemingly become the people’s choice, he must now adhere to his movement’s principles, and overturn Armenian power constitutionally.
‘The sky is the limit’
On Tuesday, more than 100,000 Armenians will likely gather again on Republic Square to watch their parliament session. Pashinyan has called the day a national holiday and has asked all to wear white, a symbol that the movement’s promise of peace will be upheld, even if the vote doesn’t go his way.
Whether or not Pashinyan does become Armenia’s next leader, some say the movement has already reached its objective.
“The most important achievement of this revolution is that this atmosphere of fear is gone,” Malayan says.
“Nobody is afraid anymore of anybody so the fear is gone. And once fear is gone, the sky is the limit. You can achieve the impossible.”
Student activists’ role in Armenia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’