Nikol Pashinyan

Nikol Pashinyan, Նիկոլ Փաշինյան, born 1 June 1975 is an Armenian politician serving as Prime Minister of Armenia since 8 May 2018. He is a former journalist and editor.

A prominent journalist, Pashinyan first founded his own newspaper in 1998 which was shut down a year later. He was sentenced for one year for defamation against then Minister of National Security Serzh Sargsyan. He edited Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) from 1999 to 2012. Sympathetic to Armenian’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, he was highly critical of second president Robert Kocharyan, Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan, and their allied oligarchs. Pashinyan led a minor opposition party in the 2007 parliamentary election, garnering 1.3% of the vote. He was an outspoken supporter of Ter-Petrosyan, when the latter made a political comeback prior to the 2008 presidential election. Ter-Petrosyan was defeated by Serzh Sargsyan in an election marred with widespread vote fraud and violence. Noted for his fiery speeches, Pashinyan had a significant role in the post-election protests which were violently put down by government forces on March 1, 2008 resulting in the deaths of 10 people. Pashinyan, blamed for “organizing mass disorders,” went into hiding only to come out in mid-2009. He was controversially sentenced to 7 years in prison; a move that was widely seen a politically motivated. He was released in May 2011 in accordance to a general amnesty. He was elected to parliament form Ter-Petrosyan’s broad opposition coalition, the Armenian National Congress, in 2012.

He later broke from Ter-Petrosyan on political grounds, establishing the party Civil Contract. Along with two other opposition parties, Pashinyan formed the Way Out alliance which garnered almost 8% of the vote in the 2017 parliamentary election. He was the leader of the 2018 Armenian revolution which forced Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and his government to resign. On 1 May 2018, he failed to gain enough votes from the Parliament to become the Prime Minister himself, but was elected in the second vote on 8 May.

Nikol Pashinyan was born on June 1, 1975 in Ijevan, in the northeastern province of Tavush. At least one of his grandparents was from the village of Yenokavan, around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from Ijevan. He was named after his paternal grandfather who died in World War II. His father, Vova Pashinyan, worked as a football and volleyball coach and as a physical education teacher. His mother died when he was 12 and he was mostly raised by his stepmother, Yerjanik, who was Vova’s second wife. He graduated from the Ijevan Secondary School N1 in 1991. During the Karabakh movement of 1988 Pashinyan organized students strikes, marches and demonstrations. He did not serve in the Armenian Army because his two elder brothers served before him and he was not obliged to serve by law. Pashinyan studied journalism at Yerevan State University (YSU) from 1991 to 1995. An excellent student, he was expelled from the university just before graduation for his criticism of the YSU leadership. In a 2015 interview Pashinyan stated that he considers himself more of a journalist because journalism brought him into politics.

Pashinyan is married to Anna Hakobyan, a journalist whom he met at YSU. They have three daughters and a son. She has been editor-in-chief of Haykakan Zhamanak since 2012. Pashinyan and Hakobyan are not officially married, nor did they have a church ceremony. Pashinyan stated that he hopes they can get married at an Armenian Apostolic church one day. Their son, Ashot, volunteered to serve in Artsakh (Karabakh) in 2018.

Besides his native Armenian, Pashinyan speaks Russian, French and English.

On May 8, 2018 Pashinyan was elected prime minister by the parliament in a 59-42 vote. 42 Republican MPs voted against him, while 13 in favor. He declared “I will serve the people of Armenia and the Republic of Armenia” immediately after the vote. His election sparked massive celebrations in Republic Square and elsewhere.

As prime minister, commentators noted the unprecedented popular support Pashinyan had acquired. Pashinyan “currently enjoys near-total support from a consolidated society,” wrote Eduard Abrahamyan in May. An opinion poll from early May indicated that 98% of respondents had a positive view of the movement that brought Pashinyan to power. According to the same poll, Pashinyan’s Way Out alliance would win a supermajority in the parliament if elections were held then with some 75% of respondents saying they would vote for Way Out.

The day after his election as Prime Minister, Pashinyan traveled to Stepanakert to attend the Liberation Day and the Victory Day celebrations on his first official foreign visit in this position. Pasinyan made his second foreign visit on 14 May 2018, meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

In 2013 he voted against Armenia’s membership to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, claiming it threatened Armenia’s national security and sovereignty. Pashinyan argued that Armenia’s membership to the union could hurt Armenia’s relations with its neighbors, including Iran. RFE/RL noted in 2016 that Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party “advocates a more neutral Armenian foreign policy” than Bright Armenia (led by MP Edmon Marukyan), and Republic (led by former PM Aram Sargsyan)—the two other members of the Way Out alliance—who have a pro-Western orientation. In August 2017 RFE/RL noted that Pashinyan “repeatedly objected last year to some pro-Western politicians’ calls for Yerevan to leave Russian-dominated trade bloc.” Nonetheless, the Way Out Alliance parliamentary faction approved a draft statement by the parliament demanding the government to start a process of invalidating Armenia’s accession treaty with the EEU.

In 2016 he criticized and voted against the Armenian-Russian agreement on creation of the Unified Regional Air Defence System in the Caucasus by arguing that Armenia should “develop a system of air defence of sovereign Armenia. Why should we transfer our own air defence system under the command of Russia?” He stated that Russia “cannot be considered a real guarantor of Armenia´s security. This kind of agreement with Russia creates only the illusion of a strengthening of security.” In April 2018 he stated that he will not pull out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In April 2018 he stated that he has “no problems with the Russian bases” in Armenia by citing Armenia’s bad relations with Turkey. The Russian base in Gyumri, he said, guards the Turkish-Armenian border and Armenia needs it

Pashinyan and Civil Contract rejected the constitutional changes proposed by Serzh Sargsyan. They refused to discuss the changes stating, “Discussing one or another constitutional model means discussing one or another scenario of the reproduction of Serzh Sargsyan’s regime.” He also rejected other opposition claims that agreed with the transition to a parliamentary republic in theory: “If there is an institutional opposition in the country, then it can carry out regime change under both presidential and parliamentary systems and under any constitution.” He believed that even if the constitutional changes were not approved, Serzh Sargsyan’s regime would continue: “As long as there is no force that would catch Sargsyan and his criminal gang by the hand, he will do whatever he wants regardless of the text of the Constitution.”

Pashinyan has been widely described as charismatic and a revolutionary. The Guardian described him in 2018 as a “fiery political orator who has spent the past decade in street politics.” In 2012 RFE/RL noted that Pashinyan is “popular with many opposition supporters for his tough anti-government rhetoric.” Shake Avoyan of Voice of America noted that Pashinyan “crusaded against entrenched corruption and oligarchical influence for decades.” His years of “street activism earned him the ire of establishment officials and legislators.” According to Richard Giragosian Pashinyan has a “unique combination that’s rare in Armenia and, in fact, rare in the post-Soviet space: a combination of charisma and tactical expertise.” In the aftermath of the 2018 revolution Pashinyan rose to be perceived as a national hero in Armenian society. Time declared Pashinyan a crusader keeping the dream of democracy alive.

He has also been called a populist. Matthew Bodner wrote in The New Republic: “His popularity was built on general populist sound bites.” Pashinyan has also been praised as a reformer. David Ignatius, for instance, called the 2018 protest movement a reformist one, praising its nonviolent nature and its broad popular appeal. Armenian-American writer Arto Vaun noted that in the aftermath of the 2018 protest movement Pashinyan grew to an “iconic stature.” Emil Sanamyan suggested that the revolution saw Pashinyan “transform from a lonely Don Quixote figure into a warrior-like Santa who managed to ‘rescue’ Armenia from a corrupt regime.”

In a classified document, released by WikiLeaks, Joseph Pennington, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan reported in March 2008: “We have long abstained from direct interaction with Pashinian and have not customarily invited him to embassy functions, as we viewed him as an unconstructive radical figure.” According to Pietro Shakarian, Pashinyan had a reputation of a “muckraking journalist.”

Vazgen Safaryan, head of the Progressive United Communist Party of Armenia, compared Pashinyan’s walk from Gyumri to Yerevan to Alexander Radishchev’s Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (1790) in which the latter described the economic conditions of the settlements he passed through.

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