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Grandmother Of Armenia's Revolution Happy With Progress

"Grandma Leyla" (Vranouhie Gevorgyan) attends a protest rally in Yerevan in April 2018.
"Grandma Leyla" (Vranouhie Gevorgyan) attends a protest rally in Yerevan in April 2018.

During Armenia's "velvet revolution," a diminutive 78-year-old was on the front lines of the demonstrations so much that she was dubbed "The Grandmother of the Revolution."

A year later, Vranouhie Gevorgyan says it was worth all the aches and pains that came with standing and marching for 10-hour stints each day.

"I'm very happy with how things have gone. I have nothing bad to say," the woman known affectionately in Armenian social-media circles as Grandma Leyla tells RFE/RL ahead of the May 1 anniversary of protest leader Nikol Pashinian's nomination to the post of prime minister.

"Pashinian is working very smartly. I feel there has been a change, people are happier and more relaxed," she adds.

Casting himself as a man of the people, Pashinian became the face of protests last year as tens of thousands of Armenians took to the streets across the country to rally against Serzh Sarkisian's planned move to the prime minister's post after two terms as president and a political landscape they saw as deeply corrupt and undemocratic.

The result -- in a country of 3 million with millions more diaspora Armenians watching -- was a nonviolent upheaval that marked a break with years of political intransigence.

Gevorgyan, who was born in Abkhazia, a region of nearby Georgia that has like a number of other post-Soviet states been riven by Russia-backed separatism, says her rise to fame was accidental.

She joined the masses of younger Armenians protesting the political climate in April 2018 because she felt the country's political elite needed to be swept from power.

She says it was her hearing problems -- and not some desire to steal the limelight -- that pushed her to the front of the crowd so she could hear the speakers.

Soon afterward, pictures of her right at the stage went viral in Armenia, making her a symbol of how deeply the antigovernment sentiment was running.

"I really don't hear well. So I moved up to the stage to hear the words," she says, playing down her revolutionary cult status. "But it was important to be there, to create conditions for everyone to live better."

Since taking power, the popular 43-year-old prime minister and former journalist has publicly made a priority of peeling back the layers of the old guard that had basically ruled the country since it left the Soviet Union in 1991, including the detention of former President Robert Kocharian, who is awaiting trial on charges of "overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order."

Grandma Leyla says she knows all too well how difficult the job facing Pashinian can be.

Twelve months later, she still believes that the tired legs, sunburn, and lack of sleep were worth every second on the streets, and stage, demanding change.

"The prime minister is the one who was elected, and that is it," she says. "Things were going badly, and that has changed. Our young people have to live."

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