Yerevan used to feel like the most relaxed city in the world – until the week I was caught up in Armenia’s revolution.
In the days before I arrived in Armenia, large anti-government demonstrations had begun in Yerevan. The country’s long-standing and increasingly unpopular president, Serzh Sargsyan, had gone back on his word to stand down, and was about to remain in power. The people – especially young Armenians – felt their country going backwards. and wanted Sargsyan gone.
The protests escalated in my first days in the city. But there was no violence, no riots. Instead, people marched through the streets carrying Armenian flags. Cars also clogged the roads and made a noise; everywhere in Yerevan the din of car horns was deafening.
Soon the city shut down for everyone to join the demonstrations. I walked the streets and tried to take everything in. On 22 April I went to Nagorno-Karabakh; that day the government closed most of the roads leading in to Yerevan, to stop more protesters coming in from other towns. By 23 April there were a quarter of a million people on Republic Square and the streets that lead to it – Teryan, Abovyan, Mashtots Avenue. The car horns got noisier.
When news broke that the president had given in to the pressure and resigned, I was in a cafe at the foot of the ‘Cascade’ steps, after climbing to the top for a view of Yerevan, and Mount Ararat in the distance. When the waitress heard that Sargsyan had been removed, she brought all the customers a glass of sparkling Armenian wine.
I rushed back through the warm Caucasian evening to join the crowd on Republic Square. Now music was playing and the country was celebrating. It was even louder.
Jonathan Campion is a writer, a translator from Russian and Ukrainian, and a book editor. He has travelled in Eurasia since 2005. Read about his work here, and contact him here.