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16 Years Since the Deadly March 1 Riots in Downtown Yerevan

16 Years Since the Deadly March 1 Riots in Downtown Yerevan

In the wake of the presidential elections held on February 19, 2008, Armenia witnessed a wave of anti-government riots that echoed through the streets of Yerevan, sparking a 10-day demonstration in Freedom Square. Led by supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan and other opposition leaders, the protests marked a significant chapter in Armenian political history, reflecting a deep-seated desire for change and democratic reform.

Rise and Fall of Levon Ter-Petrosyan

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who served as the President of Armenia from 1991 to 1998, found himself back in the political arena, vying for the presidency against the backdrop of allegations of election fraud and the loss of parliamentary support. Ter-Petrosyan's resignation in 1998 paved the way for Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan to assume the presidency. Kocharyan's controversial re-election in 2003 fueled discontent, leading to opposition-led protests and calls for his resignation.

As Kocharyan completed his second term in February 2008, the stage was set for a new leader. However, his chosen successor, Serzh Sargsyan, faced strong competition from Ter-Petrosyan, who accused the government of massive corruption. The election on February 19, 2008 resulted in Sargsyan's victory with 53% of the vote, but Ter-Petrosyan secured a notable 22%. International observers largely endorsed the election's adherence to international standards.

Protests Erupt

The protests ignited on February 20, with an estimated 25,000 opposition supporters rallying in Yerevan. Ter-Petrosyan, confident in his cause, claimed to have the support of two deputy defense ministers, assuring that the army would not intervene against the protesters. As the demonstrations intensified, calls for a new election resonated, and Ter-Petrosyan's aide declared that the protests would continue "nonstop."


The protests escalated, with February 22 witnessing the resignation of Vahan Hovhannisian, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, citing dissatisfaction with the election handling. Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jhangirian condemned the election, urging immediate action to defend votes against alleged government malpractice.

Protests persisted without official permission, fueled by opposition claims of widespread violations and suppressed beliefs. Notably, Armenian Public Television (H1) faced criticism for not adequately covering the intense protests, opting for a peaceful portrayal post-election.

The Clashes of 1 March

After nine days of protests, the turning point came on March 1 when national police and military forces attempted to disperse the remaining protesters in Freedom Square. The ensuing clashes resulted in 10 casualties, and Ter-Petrosyan was placed under de facto house arrest. In response, a crowd of 10,000 protesters rallied at the French embassy, leading to a state of emergency declared by President Kocharyan, banning future demonstrations.

A Censored Conclusion

With a state of emergency in effect, Ter-Petrosyan urged protesters to disperse, marking the end of the demonstrations. The events of March 1, 2008, referred to as "Marti mek" in Armenia, revealed the complexities of governmental transitions, the clash of political forces, and a nation wanting change. 


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