Nikol Pashinyan is an Armenian politician, journalist, publicist. He was a leading member of the Armenian National Congress, an opposition movement led by former President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. He was the editor of Armenia’s best-selling daily liberal newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak (The Armenian Times), which has been highly critical of the governments of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan.
As the head editor of the daily since 1999, Pashinyan has been an important contributor to the discourse of the various movements that have opposed the governments of former President Robert Kocharyan and former President, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, whose presidency Pashinyan and the opposition reject as illegitimate. In 2000, while he was the head editor of Haykakan Zhamanak he was convicted on charges of defamation and libel against different people.
Pashinyan supported Levon Ter-Petrosyan in the 2008 presidential elections when he was described as Ter-Petrosyan’s “customary crowd-warmer.”
He went into hiding shortly after the deadly unrest following the election; he was wanted by the Armenian police on allegations of murder and mass disorder. In June 2009, he came out of hiding and turned himself to the police. He was released after an amnesty was granted to many political prisoners in May 2011, nearly two years after he was jailed.
On May 6, 2012, he was elected to the National Assembly of Armenia.
Nikol Pashinyan & events of March 1st
Pashinyan went into hiding after the events of March 1st, 2008. Along with seven others, he is wanted by the Armenian Government for “committing premeditated actions intended to seizing of state power by force, of provocation and organization of mass disorders accompanied with murder in Yerevan.”
In an interview with RFE/RL on October 16, 2008, Pashinyan insisted that democratic “revolution” is the only way to effect change in Armenia and that President Sargsyan has done nothing to prove the opposite.
He maintains that the government investigators are covering up the perpetrators of the 8 deaths on March 1, who he claims are former president Robert Kocharian and former prime minister Serzh Sargsyan.
In an interview given to a state-run TV channel,in December 2015, Nikol Pashinyan stated that he never left the Republic of Armenia, during the time he spent hiding, and that he spent most of his time hiding in Yerevan. Nikol Pashinyan considered this to be “shameful” for the National Security Service.
Detention and release
On July 1, 2009, Pashinyan came out of hiding and surrendered himself to Armenian police after a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities on June 19 of opposition figures that have been detained following the March 1 events.
Pashinyan was one of several opposition activists freed after an amnesty measure was passed by the National Assembly of Armenia in late May 2011, during a period of protracted anti-government protests. He spoke at an Armenian National Congress rally, where he called for snap elections and said they were the only possible means of restoring Armenians’ confidence in their government.
On November 22, 2004, at 8:40 pm, Pashinyan’s four-wheel drive vehicle parked just outside the Haykakan Zhamanak office in downtown Yerevan burst into flames after what the newspaper staff said was a strong explosion. Pashinyan believes he stayed alive by accident, since during the last three months he had normally finished work at between 8:30 and 9 o’clock in the evening, whereas on the day of the attack he worked longer than usual. The fire completely destroyed the car’s front section, including the driver’s seat. After launching an inquiry, police concluded unusually quickly that the fire was caused by a “breakdown of the car battery’s wires,” effectively denying that Pashinyan came under attack.
Pashinyan has said that the explosion was as an assassination attempt engineered by a wealthy businessman, Gagik Tsarukian. He said that Tsarukian was infuriated by a recent Haykakan Zhamanak story that accused him of illegally cutting trees to build a villa in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor.
On December 9, 2013 Pashinyan with other six politicians and activists started a new political group called Civil Contract. The members of the board of Civil Contract said they will seek the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan. Pashinyan stated that the organization will take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Role of Nikol Pashinyan in the 2018 Armenian protests
Various political and civil groups led by MP Nikol Pashinyan (head of Civil Contract party) staged anti-government protests in Armenia (most commonly known as Merzhir Serzhin (Armenian: Մերժիր Սերժին for “reject Serzh”) in April 2018. Protests and marches were held in response to Serzh Sargsyan’s third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in the government of the Republic of Armenia. On April 23, Serzh Sargsyan resigned, which triggered the resignation of the government.
Karen Karapetyan, the First Deputy Prime Minister, was appointed Acting Prime Minister. On April 25, one of Pashinian’s allies said that Pashinian intends to become Prime Minister until new elections to the National Assembly are held, because he has been “chosen by the people”.
It is unclear how such a transition of power (outside of parliament) would occur as it would override the Constitution of Armenia.