If creativity and innovation are one of the driving forces of creating art, then the Velvet Revolution in Armenia was a true art piece.
Following the 2015 Constitutional referendum in the Republic of Armenia that changed the system of governance from a presidential to a parliamentary one, eventually led to large-scale protests that took over the streets of Armenia almost three years later. Demonstrations and mass acts of civil disobedience that began in mid-April were an immediate reaction to the appointment of Serj Sargsyan, the former president, who had just completed his second term, as the country’s new prime minister. These extraordinary events led to Sargsyan’s eventual resignation on April 23 and required parliament to elect a new prime minister. A special parliamentary session on May 1 failed to elect the only candidate, Nikol Pashinyan, the opposition MP who was leading the movement. However, on May 8th after holding the session for the second time, Pashinyan was elected as the prime minister of Armenia.
The peaceful protests acted as a prism for political issues strangling citizens of Armenia to bring resistance in public. And the need of self-expression was voiced through culture introducing creative ways of peacefully handling the protests. The civil disobedience in Armenia that soon turned into the Velvet Revolution served as a model for other countries. The peaceful protests became a reality thanks to Armenian moral and cultural values which brought out the best of their creativity.
How did citizens express their resistance on the streets? And what role did art play in guiding Armenian citizens to protest against the government?
Did Armenians dance through the revolution? Yes, and not only.
Looking back at the events that took place on the streets of Armenia, let us recall the most creative yet entertaining ideas brought by the citizens to the protests. Because at times, art does not always takes visual forms but rather bears the silhouette of a single idea.
Visual Arts: Ruben Malayan’s Calligraphy Posters
What can clearly reflect one’s thoughts and feelings if not a well-designed and articulated poster? Ruben Malayan, a well-known Armenian artist who creates visual art through calligraphy had contributed to the development of visual communication and calligraphy in Armenia by introducing works that illustrated a high level of aesthetics and understanding of art. These posters not only gave youth content to share with the world but a vivid example of what a decent poster should look like. “Thousands of people, from all layers of society, united for one single purpose – chanting the same slogans, singing the same songs – all of this gives an artist an incredible energetic charge; all that needs to be done from that point is to spill it onto paper,” Ruben Malayan said to EVN Report.
Even though դուխով is not an Armenian word, it officially became a symbol of the movement because of its definition which calls to action by lifting the spirit so as not to be afraid of fighting for one’s rights. The creator of this symbol is Ara Aslanyan who designed the logo way before the movement has started. And during the civil disobedience movements, he wanted Nikol Pashinyan to wear the դուխով cap. “A few days ago, I sent my hat (to Nikol Pashinyan,) waiting for him to finally wear it, and he put it at an ideal moment when he was released (Nikol Pashinyan was detained during the protests). It was very victorious. Serzh Sargsyan, in his turn, ‘helped’ the brand’s formation, with his resignation. It was a joy and was very emotional. It proved that everything needs to be done with spirit (դուխով),” said Ara Aslanyan to MediaMax.
After the word դուխով coalesced into the movement’s image, it appeared on flags, posters, and clothing. During the civil disobedience movement, nearly half of the peaceful protesters wore T-shirts and caps with an image of Nikol Pashinyan or the word դուխով. In other words, the movement mixed politics with fashion and it resulted in a massive production of Pashinyan or դուխով inspired clothing variating from simple copy-paste images on the T-shirt to a hand-written or drawn pictures of the prime minister.
The students of the Conservatory had been blocking Yerevan streets with well-prepared pieces performed on the roads. Other citizens also brought their musical instruments, for instance, a trumpet or even a classic piano and casually played thereby causing the massive traffic jam on the streets. The song that became the hymn of the movement is Իմ Քայլը (My Step) the words of which are written by Nikol Pashinyan.
What is Armenian culture without Qochari? Melancholic Armenia, perhaps? The roads were not only closed with cars, trash cans or people sitting on the crosswalk but also citizens dancing Qochari in front of the cars that were being blocked by those protesters. Only in Armenia do people celebrate the victory before it actually overtakes the country.
“We are not protesting, We are simply crossing the streets”
You do not have to necessarily break the rules to make a revolution. Even after the clashes on the Baghramyan Street which resulted in several injuries, people tried to find loopholes to deceive the police and continue the peaceful protests. And if they were not allowed to close the roads, one of the ways to bring the attention of state officials was to simply cross the road on a green light in masses. Slowly. In addition, the streets became a barbecue arena, people were seen playing backgammon on the streets. One of the activists decided to lie under a police car to prevent them from detaining his friends. He has spent five days sleeping in the streets, losing his voice and eventually enjoying the victory.
Serj Sargsyan, the former prime minister of Armenia was often time associated with чебурашка (cheburashka), a Russian cartoon before the protests but the meme gained momentum during the movements filling all the corners of the city with leaflets or toys depicting this cartoon character. Citizens of Armenia attached the image of Cheburashka-Serj Sargsyan to cars, T-shirts, and posters.
“Ira I will be at home around 1 a.m.” This statement from a random citizen who probably decided to make a joke on camera is another meme that went viral. The activist wanted to send the message to his wife informing her that he will stay late on the streets to protest.
Dozens of other stories from the protests still revolve in the expanses of the Internet. The protests not only resulted in the opposition’s and citizen’s victory but it also proved that art reflected either through visual protests, music, dances or creative ideas is an essential weapon of the Velvet Revolution. When Nikol Pashinyan was elected as the prime minister of Armenia, a group of people brought snow from Aragats mountain in trucks and began to have a group snowball fight, proving that such an impossible phenomenon as having snow in May is also possible; it is a metaphor for the victory that the public was fighting for. And if such creativity is not art, I am not sure what is.