Part of the expansive and impressive TIFF Doc roster is this film out of Armenia. It tells the tale of their non-violent velvet revolution which happened in the spring of 2018. When most of us think of the country of Armenia our minds go to the genocide. It occured during the years of 1914-1923 and involved the death of rought 1.5 million Armenians. In the world that we live in that left them vulnerable to outside influences. And by influences I mean the Russians. They came in with communism and it took over.
Coomunism took grip over the country until the early 90s. Then Armenia earned their independence from mother Russia. This was followed by bringing their own Constitution into law in 1995. In that Constitution it was written that a Prime Minister could not be in power for more than two terms. It went this way until 2015 when the in power Republican Party rewrote it and Serzh Sargsyan was elected for his third term in the spring of 2018.
A relatively new democracy was in danger of slipping into a dictatorship. The government was filmly in the grip of corruption while the people were mired in poverty. On March 1st government forces were ordered to open fire on protesters, killing ten and arresting many others. The movement against it sputtered to a halt. One man was not going to stand for that. Easter 2019, he put on a backpack and vowed to walk across Armenia gathering his supporters in the hopes of putting a halt to the upcoming election.
With incredible access to those involved, director Garin Hovannisian has assembled (because the story was already constructed) the story via following around the leader of this velvet revolution Nikol Pashinyan, a newspaper co-founder with his wife and at present a sitting member in parliament, and even interviews with Sargsyan himself. Shocking that he would agree to this. Either his ego is that big or he is that delusional.
With 14 days until the election, Nikol hit the road. He made many posts on social media in order to allow Armenians to know what he was up to and invite them to join him.
Nikol arrived in the capital four days before the election and headed to Liberty Square. In the beginning there was only a couple hundred people. They felt as if they failed. Not willing to give up Nikol and some followers kept going forward. Hoping to gain support. They stormed a TV station to get coverage. They got students involved. Disrupted public transportation. Their numbers grew.
On the day of the election the protestors were unable to get around the parliament building in order to halt the election. The next step was a rally in Republic Square. It is the biggest square in all of Armenia. Nikol kept calling on Armenians not to leave him alone.
No one could have predicted how full the Square was. Day 19 was truly the beginning of a non-violent velvet revolution. In order to stay ahead of the police they moved the protest from spot to spot. Police were forced to chase them and were becoming exhausted.
Students and workers went out on strike. Hundreds of protestors are arrested. A meeting at a hotel between Nikol and Sargysan was arranged. Sargysan came expecting a dialogue. Nikol just wanted him to resign, so Sargysan walked out.
Soon after all leaders of the Revolution were arrested including Nikol. Rallies were declared illegal. Though there were still tens of thousands of people assembled in the Square. Women stepped up and saved the movement, including Nikol’s wife.
On day 24 something amazing happened. The peace keepers joined the protest. Along with the Armenian Apostolic Church. The writing is on the wall for the Republican Party.
Sargysan finally agreed to resign that day. Nikol makes a speech in the Square saying “I am not alone” over and over. Soon after Nikol is elected Prime Minister of Armenia. Sargysan remains the head of the Republican Party.