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Armenian Women Raise A Clamor For Sarkisian's 'Last Call'

A woman celebrates the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian by banging on a cooking pot at her home in Yerevan on April 23.

The noise created by thousands of women banging pots and pans together in the Armenian capital late on April 22 could have been described as a cacophony.

But for Yerevan city councilor Zara Batoian, the clatter that heralded Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's resignation the next day was music to her ears.

It was Batoian's idea to get people to create 15 minutes of noisy din starting at 11 p.m. as part of the mass antigovernment protests that erupted over the idea that Sarkisian would be prime minister just after serving two terms as president.

Batoian, who heads a disability-rights group in Armenia called Disability Info, says she heard the sound of "inclusiveness."

"I thought it would be a good idea to connect all the people who were not on the streets but wanted to participate in the protests," Batoian told RFE/RL on April 23, just hours before Sarkisian's surprise resignation.

"I have a disability and I use a wheelchair," Batoian explained. "I know a lot of people who wanted to take part in the protests who were sitting at home, not by choice but because they couldn't go out. They also needed a way to be involved."

For some, disabilities were preventing them from taking to the streets, she said. For others, it was Armenia's patriarchal society: "Many mothers and wives are expected to stay at home. They are not as free as men to go out for protests."

Zara Batoian came up with the idea of a pots and pans protest in homes across Yerevan.
Zara Batoian came up with the idea of a pots and pans protest in homes across Yerevan.

'Last Call' For Serzh

Unlike other protest actions in Yerevan, Batoian's idea was not supported by a social media campaign.

Instead, Maria Karapetian, a member of the Reject Serzh opposition initiative, announced the plan during an April 22 rally in Yerevan's Republic Square at 7 p.m. -- just four hours before the noise began.

"Women, we need you to reinforce the peaceful nature of the protests," Karapetian told the rally. "We have been discussing the tools of peaceful disobedience today and Zara Batoian has suggested this tactic. Tonight, when we get home, everybody take your pots and pans out of your windows and ring Serzh Sarkisian's 'last call' at 11 p.m. -- for 15 minutes only, because we have to sleep peacefully after that."

Batoian said the action was dubbed a "last call" protest in reference to Armenian students' tradition of celebrating the final school bell on their last day at university.

She said that after more than a decade in power as president, it was time for Sarkisian to step down and let Armenia's next generation of politicians take over.

"I think this kind of protest is the most inclusive action in Armenia," Batoian said, noting that she had seen YouTube videos of demonstrators in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal banging pots and pans during street marches.

"It is a very new kind of protest for Armenia," Batoian said. "I couldn't imagine that so many people would join in from the first day."

"Just before 11 o'clock, I could hear only voices from the streets outside," she said. "I didn't think a lot of people would join us. But when I came outside with my mother to take part in that action, there were so many people joining it. It was amazing."

Armenian women had vowed to continue their kitchenware rally every night until Sarkisian announced his resignation.

They didn't have to: Less than 20 hours after the inaugural "last call" demonstration, Sarkisian's website announced that he was stepping down from power.