The first time Shahen Harutyunyan was handcuffed he was 14. On November 5th, 2013, his father Shant and a group of activists were arrested as they walked towards the Presidential palace in central Yerevan for what they called the “Revolution of Values”. Shahen was in the group: as he was underage he was soon freed by signature while Shant was imprisoned.
The struggle for political liberties runs in Shahen’s blood - as it does ending up in prison. The 20-year-old student carries the name of his grandfather who in 1966 founded the National United Party, an underground Armenia party in what was then the USSR, and was locked up as a result. Freed under the perestroika, he was recognized as a political prisoner and his party, re-named the Union for National Self-Determination, became the first independent force in SSR Armenia. Shahen’s father, Shant, openly opposed the former ruling force, the Republican Party, ending up in prison as well as in a mental health facility as a result of his demonstrations.
As his father languished in jail, Shahen carried out the fight - this time alone. As a teenager he organized protests calling for the release of political prisoners, including his father. More often than not, he was alone with just a placard. He soon joined the youth-led movements asking for more social justice in the country and participated in the peaceful Velvet Revolution of April 2018 which led to a change of government.
When Shant was released in November 2018 as part of an amnesty of political prisoners Shahen laid down his arms. For now.