No charming walks under the full moon, nor lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes. Instead, sit-in protests, shout-aloud slogans, and hectic runs to flee from the police have come to characterize the courtship of many young Armenian couples in the country. As love has many faces and reveals itself in different forms, many young Armenian couples have come to know that more clearly.
As the capital, Yerevan, has been gripped in demonstrations every summer since 2013, many young protesters have discovered more than just civic activism in the street - they’ve also found their soulmates. The aspiration to change Armenia’s future for the better has changed their lives forever. “And this is just the beginning,” they say.
S: “Dem em” was not my first protest as I also took part in the demonstrations against the price hikes for public transport in 2013.
N: “Dem em” was the first deliberate action. I knew what I was fighting for and I really wanted to change something that was against the law; at that time I did not think about my personal life. A lot of intellectuals participated and that gave me the hope that something could be changed. That was why I went along, and I realized that my participation was important. My parents warned against joining the protest, they thought it it could be dangerous so I did it without telling them. But they saw me on TV. I secretly went to the protests and later they saw me on the news on TV.
S: It wasn’t romantic at all, rather long, tiring marches. For kilometres. And clashes with the police. Usually we were back home late at night, after distributing flyers.
N: But there was something romantic on the day of our meeting near Matenadaran. It was on May 1, the International Workers' Day. The weather was constantly changing from sunshine to overcast. Sergey was with a group of friends while I was there alone and didn’t know anyone. Sergey noticed me and thought that I was a police spy and decided to come over to talk to me. This is how it started. Later, the sit-in started and when the police tried to disperse us, Sergey defended me.
S: We’d already experienced infiltrators, people who would attend the protest and silently keep an eye on us. We had to be sure that we were surrounded by people whom we could trust. I can say the “Dem em” movement showed that people are ready to struggle [for their rights]. Starting from this protest, we understood that the country can develop when equal laws for everyone are implemented. Now, a lot of protests are organized for many different reasons, but back then we realized that there was a need to solve the issue comprehensively. And since then the number of protests and the level of civic consciousness has risen. The local struggle became a massive one. The new phase of activism started then, when besides protesting, we had to suggest our own solutions.
N: Sergey was detained on the day we got engaged. He decided to join the protest as there was small group, about 28 people. They blocked the road and all of them were arrested and taken to police stations. He wasn’t answering to my phone calls and I realized what was going on. I took a taxi and headed to the police station and waited there until he was released. When he left the police station, his comrades met him with applause. This was a romantic moment.
S: Our 11-month-old daughter Sofia was born on the same day as the founder of the “Dem em” movement, Artashes Arabajyan. My parents do not like my methods of struggle, but I hope that in our newly-created family we will be able to educate our children differently so that they, and later their children, will continue our work.
G: I wasn’t very serious at the beginning. But when my friends decided to camp overnight on Bagramyan, it was a matter of honour to stay there too. There was a small medical point on the avenue which provided assistance to the protesters. They were checking the delivered food (during the protests lots of people brought food for protesters but many were scared they could contain drugs which would have given the police reasons to arrest people. The medical point took the responsibility of checking food, before it was distributed among protesters) and contact ambulances in case of necessity. There were two persons working there, doctors and students from the Yerevan State Medical University. As you understand, she is a doctor.
R: The medical point functioned in the same place for a few days, then Valeri Osipyan, the deputy chief of the Yerevan police, ordered to remove it. Then we transformed it into a mobile one. Do you remember I had a big cardboard sign saying “mobile medical services”?
G: No, I don’t remember that one, but I do remember that the first thing I noticed, besides the way you looked, was that you were providing medical help and taking care of the protesters, while keeping a distance at the same time.
R: We were in groups and each group stood in the certain part of the avenue, guarding food and personal belongings. I noticed that Gemafin would often appear in our area, I wondered who he was. He had a suspicious look, and I thought I had to be careful with him.
G: People very often thought I was a policeman in civilian clothes.
R: Later, when I started to talk to him, I understood that either he wasn’t a policeman or he was a very strange one.
G: In reality all these movements are the result of the March 1st crisis [when mass protests followed the contested presidential elections of 2008]. Those were dramatic events, ten people were killed, but many people stopped being afraid of protesting.
G: For me, the main achievement of Electric Yerevan has been that my family is a result of that event. Secondly, it was important to witness how both progressive and conservative youngsters united for a common goal. In reality these two groups don’t understand each other, even now. But all of us live in one community and Electric Yerevan provided a platform for these two groups to communicate with each other effectively and get to know each other better.
The big failure of Electric Yerevan was the discreet influence of the authorities, which were supported by the mass media and remained largely unnoticed by the protesters.
N: We got in contact via Facebook [in 2012], before that we were participating in different demonstrations, but we didn’t know each other personally. The first demonstration we became involved with was after we were already dating. It was the protest against the decision to raise the fee on public transportation in 2013.
L: I couldn’t imagine myself dating or marrying a person who is not politically active, as I’m not sure that other types of people would understand and accept our lifestyle.
N: I did not think about whether or not my girlfriend would be associated with politics, but for me it was clear that it could not be a person who was indifferent to injustice.
L: The issues that we raised during demonstrations weren’t solved and it was clear that we had to create an initiative which could achieve results by joining forces.
N: I never differentiated between civil or political activities. While I was a student I participated in political demonstrations, and at that time, our civil society was not well-developed. But I know that all these problems are political by their essence. It has become tiresome to participate in civil demonstrations without seeing results. I think that civic movements are more active now, thanks to social networks, but so far the quantity still hasn’t brought quality. That’s why we need a political process, which usually is not created during such demonstrations.
L: Now I can see people in their 20s engaged in civil activism, I wasn’t engaged in it so much at that age. In recent years the amount of observers during the elections has increased as also fair elections have become important for people.
N: I wouldn’t rely only on generational change. Very often, the new generation follows the path of their parents and grandparents. In order to make the necessary changes, education and the creation of a certain environment is needed. The civil protests have been the consequences of unsolved political issues.