YEREVAN (Reuters) – A politician who forced the Armenian prime minister to resign on Tuesday led thousands of people on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the Ottoman Turks' massacre of Armenians in 1915, cementing his growing political importance.
Prime Minister Sersch Sarksyan is on Monday resigned After nearly two weeks of street protests triggered by allegations, he had manipulated the constitution to stay in power.
Legislator Nikol Pashinyan played a key role in the removal of Sarksyan, organizing many of the protests, and urging the Prime Minister to go to a television exchange before being arrested and released. He will hold talks with the ruling party on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Pashinyan led thousands of people through the capital city of Yerevan to a hilltop monument dedicated to the victims of the massacres of 1915.
Some chanted his name and waved the national flag.
Armenia says the murders were a genocide during the First World War. Muslim majority Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed during the war, but denies that the killings constitute genocide.
Given the solemnity of the anniversary year, the politicians decided on Tuesday to make largely no political statements about the future of the country.
But acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, an ally of the ousted Sarksyan, said it was important to stay united in the midst of political turmoil.
"We are living through a very difficult period in our new history … demonstrating to the whole world that we are in agreement despite difficulties and unresolved issues," Karapetyan said in a statement after planting flowers at the Victims' Memorial the massacres.
"We reaffirm our determination to build a strong statehood and a free and civilized society."
Sarksyan's allies, such as Karapetyan, remain in important government offices, and it remains unclear whether his resignation will usher in any real change ,
Armenia's political parties in parliament must now present the name of a new prime minister within seven days.
Pashinyan, 42, seems to play an important role in political transformation.
He has a history of political activism and was among opposition activists who demonstrated against Sarksyan's 2008 presidential election victory. In clashes following this victory, ten people were killed.
After a period of hiding, Pashinyan surrendered to the police in 2009 and was sentenced to four years in prison for organizing civil unrest. He was released amnesty two years later.
"Nikol is a really popular leader we trust," said Karen Mkhitaryan, a 19-year-old student, about Pashinyan.
Politicians and experts said Tuesday that Sarksyan, who had been president for a decade before trying to extend his term, decided to step down due to the pressure of the mass protests as unbearable.
"Thousands of people were on the streets for days, calling for his resignation, and the moment came when he had no means to suppress this movement," said Ararat Mirzoyan, an opposition leader, to Reuters.
Some said that Sarksyan's move was a rare example of a leader's political wisdom under pressure.
"Sersch Sarksyan reaffirmed that he is a true statesman," Deputy Speaker of Parliament Eduard Sharmazanov told Reuters. Others praised him for not having come to a bloody suppression of power, which he had hinted on Sunday.
Sarksyan was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Moscow is watching events in Armenia, where it has two military bases. The Kremlin said on Tuesday it was pleased that the situation seems stable for now.
Many experts say it is too early to predict what lies ahead.
"What we need is a sober reconfiguration of power sharing," said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center.
"But such consensus and compromise seem to be very far away, and with rising expectations and anger dangerously high, the real challenge of governance is just beginning."
Letter from Margarita Antidze / Andrew Osborn; Arrangement of Angus MacSwan