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New PM Gives Armenians Glimpse Of Halls Of Power Through Facebook Broadcasts

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has endeared himself to many Armenians with his folksy style.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has endeared himself to many Armenians with his folksy style.

When hundreds of thousands of Armenians took to the streets last month to push ex-President Serzh Sarkisian out of the prime minister's office, they demanded transparency.

Well, if their Facebook feeds are any gauge, they got it.

Nikol Pashinian, the former journalist-turned-lawmaker who rode social media and protest marches to become the country's new head of government, is fulfilling his promise to keep ordinary Armenians abreast of what's going on in the halls of power by literally showing them the halls of power.

"As important decisions have been made, I want to inform you immediately," the 42-year-old firebrand told viewers in a Facebook Live broadcast immediately after appointing Valery Osipian as chief of police and Artur Vanetsian as national security chief on May 10, two days after becoming prime minister.

Pashinian catapulted from near obscurity to become the most popular figure in Armenia, in part because of his folksy manner and savvy social-media ways.

Wearing a trademark camouflage T-shirt, baseball cap, and backpack, he led protesters through the streets of Yerevan as they ratcheted up pressure on Sarkisian, who had been elected prime minister by a parliament dominated by his Republican Party (HHK) after term limits ended a decade-long run as president.

Sarkisian, accused by opponents of pushing murky backroom deals and corruption, was forced to resign on April 23, some six days after taking the premiership amid massive protests led by Pashinian, who called the demonstrations a "velvet revolution" in the South Caucasus nation.

Pashinian has since used social media to give Armenians a detailed look at the upper echelons of political power with his broadcasts, often looking like a giddy teenager as he describes his surroundings.

One video shows Pashinian and other officials boarding an official government plane on May 13 as they prepare to head to Sochi for a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) summit and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We'll be leaving on time," Pashinian giggles in the broadcast as he walks down the plane's aisle before taking a seat.

The lack of security protocol by broadcasting live video from inside official transportation may shock some leaders, but the strategy appears to be working for Pashinian.

Cottage Industry

His broadcasts regularly draw audiences of as much as 800,000 -- about one-quarter of Armenia's population -- sparking thousands of comments from viewers in his small country, which regained independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and abroad, where the Armenian diaspora numbers around 8 million.

"Mr. [Pashinian] Thank you very much for your work. I bow before you. We have never been so happy. once again THANKS," Facebook user Anna Ziragian commented on one of Pashinian's videos.

Another viewer even added some sage advice for any politician who has just taken power after a revolution.

"Don't take anything from there: it may be poisoned. And appoint an insider as your chef!" said Facebook user Mariam Hakobyan while the prime minister was broadcasting a live video showing his office and what was in the fridge.

Pashinian's broadcasts have also sparked a cottage industry of sorts, with many Armenians posting parodies of his videos.

Sergey Danielian, a well-known actor from Yerevan, has playfully mocked the new prime minister's on-air personality in a parody, describing everything in detail as he holds the camera on himself at an odd angle, which slightly distorts his face just as Pashinian's videos often do.

"Hi, my dear compatriots! As you know, I have met with Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] today," Danielyan deadpanned in another video the day Pashinian met with Putin. "Tomorrow I'll feed the little birds from my balcony, I'll change my socks and come to work!"

Pashinian's style is also catching on with some of his government colleagues.

Arayik Harutyunyan, the newly appointed minister of education and science, has taken to the web to discuss policy and announce his activities.

"What can I say? I serve the Armenian citizen," he said in a Facebook post on May 15 after recording a video following a trip to Shirak State University in the city of Gyumri. Within two hours, the video had more than 17,000 views.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service

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