The Media Center hosted a discussion on the civic activism and the continuing protest on Baghramyan Avenue. The speakers included: Armen Mkrtchyan, activist, Hayazn Party; Aram Manukyan, RA citizen; Maksim Sargsyan, activist, No to Plunder Civic Initiative; and Artush Chibukhchyan, activist, No to Plunder Civic Initiative.
The protesters said none of the three demands has been met yet and they are determined to continue the sit-in on Baghramyan Avenue.
“The acts of violence are not investigated and actually, no action is taken and the three demands are still open,” Maksim Sargsyan said.
Earlier, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) – a 100% subsidiary of Inter RAO (Russia), applied to the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise the electricity tariffs. The company suggested increasing the daytime tariff from the current 41.85 to 58.93 AMD per 1kWh and the nighttime tariff from the current 31.85 to 48.93 AMD per 1kWh.
Despite the vehement public protests, on June 17 the PSRC took a decision to partially satisfy the ENA’s application. At the PSRC meeting a decision was made to raise the tariffs by 6.93 AMD instead of 17 AMD suggested by the ENA.
The decision led to public discontent that has grown into unrest and mass protests. On June 22, the protesters blocked Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, in front of President Sargsyan’s residence. On the morning of June 23, the demonstration against the recent electricity price hike was dispersed with blasts of water and use of force by the riot police. 237 protesters were dragged away by the police. Journalists and bloggers reported that they, too, had endured rough treatment by uniformed and plainclothes officers.
President Sargsyan has suspended an increase in household electricity rates in an effort to end the protests. He stated the tariff rise would go into force, but the government would cover the extra "burden" instead of the public until an independent audit of the decision was completed. Sargsyan's announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov. During the meeting, they agreed to an audit of the electricity company. Parallelly, Valery Permyakov and Hrachya Harutyunyan will be tried by an Armenian court. In addition, Moscow is to give Armenia a $200 million loan to purchase sophisticated Russian weapons at a discount.
The last ten days, Armen Mkrtchyan believes, are the brightest ones in the new history of the country since everyone saw that there has been civic and political landscapes are shifting for the present generation.
“As for Serzh Sargsyan’s statement, it was a mere attempt to abate the pressure which fortunately failed. Audits are conducted in the company every year and it is not something new. This regular action needn’t be presented as something extraordinary,” said Mkrtchyan.
Aram Manukyan added Serzh Sargsyan’s statement does not address any of the three demands they have.
“We have met some economists, energy experts and lawyers and they all say the audit will change little. It will only evolve into a final statement that the price increase is reasonable,” Maksim Sargsyan said.
The road to victory is protesting on streets, Artush Chibukhchyan believes.
“We can impose pressure on the authorities but I expect little of the audit. As for our participation in the audit, we have refused to delegate a representative because by participating we would make the audit legitimate,” said Chibukhchyan.
Chibukhchyan believes the society must keep the spotlight on the investigation of the brutality cases and violence acts.
On June 23 the protesters were all calm and no one attacked the riot police, Sargsyan told the Media Center.
“The police, however, used force and such methods that are applied during armed rallies when it is impossible to get to protesters and the police have to isolate the area and use water cannons… And it is sad that it happened at the presence of high-ranking officials, and with their participation,” Sargsyan said.
Mkrtchyan agreed that when water cannons are used, protesters throw Molotov cocktails, stones and wood pieces at the police.
“Yet, we have created a precedent which may be called “Gandhi-like” when the protesters peacefully reacted with smiles and did not act as it is common in the world,” Mkrtchyan said.
The speakers told the Media Center that today at 19:00 they will march to Baghramyan Avenue and join the other citizens there.
Lilit Arakelyan, Editor-Coordinator
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