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It's Not You, It's Me: Serzh Sarkisian's Breakup Letter To Armenia, Annotated

Armenian Prime Minister and ex-President Serzh Sarkisian shocked the country with a surprise resignation on April 23.

Armenian Prime Minister and ex-President Serzh Sarkisian shocked the country with a surprise resignation on April 23, in the face of ongoing protests against his continued role atop politics in that Caucasus nation.

His abrupt departure, after a decade as president and a mere seven days as prime minister, caught many observers off guard.

Sarkisian's statement announcing his resignation was brief and seemingly represented a complete capitulation to domestic critics, and perhaps raises as many questions as it answers for Armenia, which spent two decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union on a westward path before more recently developing closer trade and political ties to Russia.

Here is Sarkisian's official resignation statement, annotated with some of what we know so far:

Dear Countrymen,

I am appealing to all citizens of the Republic of Armenia

In a country of 3 million, Yerevan's street protests attracted only tens of thousands of people. But the numbers were climbing.

But 8 million members of the Armenian diaspora were following events closely, and had joined protests remotely in some cases.

The elderly and my dearest youth,

Political veterans were leading these protests, but students and other young people in the capital had turned out in force.

Men and women,

I am addressing those who stood on the streets day and night with “Reject Serzh” calls and those who were reaching their offices with difficulty and carrying out their duties without complaining,

Sarkisian ruled as president for a decade (2008-18), dominating political life and orchestrating recent reforms that transferred key powers to the prime minister before leaving the presidency in the care of a hand-picked successor and riding party loyalty into the PM's post on April 17.

Street protests first flared up on April 13, ahead of Sarkisian's appointment as PM, with demonstrators vowing to block streets and key buildings in the capital with all-day marches that began modestly but gained momentum when Sarkisian was confirmed as PM.

I am addressing those who were following the live broadcast for days, and those who were ensuring public order for day and night,

RFE/RL and others were live-streaming the protests from the start, but Armenian state media initially gave the demonstrations considerably less coverage.

Remarkably, police on April 20 essentially abandoned the streets of downtown Yerevan to the protesters. They returned to arrest dozens over the weekend.

I am addressing our courageous soldiers and officers who are standing at the border, I am addressing my brothers in arms,

While security forces appeared to be carrying out orders, the appearance of around 200 soldiers marching with protesters on April 23 marked a remarkable development and appeared to signal government vulnerability. The anti-Sarkisian troops were reportedly part of a contingent of military peacekeepers.

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian had accused regional arch foe Azerbaijan of taking advantage of Armenia's "internal political developments," even suggesting Baku had "amassed manpower, artillery, and military equipment" near the countries' disputed border. The two countries are still technically at war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

I am addressing my fellow party members , all political forces , and politicians,

A veteran Republican Party colleague of Sarkisian's, Armen Ashotian, quickly hailed his resignation as "a step of a statesman and a sign of political courage."

But it is unclear whether Sarkisian's political allies had threatened to withdraw their support before the resignation.

During his decade as president with a friendly or even pliant legislature, Sarkisian had clipped the wings of would-be rivals and was aided by his critics' inability to present a unified opposition front.

I am addressing you for the last time as leader of the country.

It is an abrupt exit after a decade in power. Sarkisian appears to be vowing to remain outside any transitional process.

Nikol Pashinian was right. I got it wrong. The situation has several possible solutions , but I will not take any of them . That is not my way. I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of prime minister.

Whatever reasons he might have for seemingly anointing 42-year-old lawmaker Pashinian, it is a stunning about-face to be hailing a rival whom he had walked out on a day earlier with the admonition that Pashinian's "7 or 8 percent of the vote" gave him "no right to speak on behalf of the people."

Whether Sarkisian is referring to taking up the prime minister's post or specifically his government's tactics for countering the public protests, which included hundreds of arrests, this looks like an acknowledgement that his characterization of the dissenters as a mere "7 or 8 percent" was flawed.

Armenian protests have petered out or been met with violence in the past. Sarkisian's predecessor as president, Robert Kocharian, ordered the forceful dispersal of protesters in 2008, when 10 people died and hundreds more were injured.

The ruling Republican Party's parliament speaker, Vahram Baghdasarian, reacted to Sarkisian's exit by calling it a "smart, wise step that offered a chance to avoid dangerous consequences."

The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand.

Peace, harmony, and wisdom for our country.

Thank you.

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    Andy Heil

    Andy Heil is a Prague-based senior correspondent covering central and southeastern Europe and the North Caucasus, and occasionally science and the environment. Before joining RFE/RL in 2001, he was a longtime reporter and editor of business, economic, and political news in Central Europe, including for the Prague Business Journal, Reuters, Oxford Analytica, and Acquisitions Monthly, and a freelance contributor to the Christian Science Monitor, Respekt, and Tyden. 

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    Pete Baumgartner

    Pete Baumgartner is the editor for Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the Balkans for RFE/RL's Central Newsroom in Prague.

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    RFE/RL's Armenian Service

    RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, operating out of a bureau in Yerevan, is a leading source of trusted reporting and technical innovation, reaching outsized audiences when developments demand authoritative, up-to-the-minute news most.