The audience goes crazy in the Armenian capital Yerevan’s Downtown Club as rapper Narek goes on stage. “How is it going, Armenia, a nation of winners?” he exclaims. His fans are jubilant. On Tuesday, their hero, opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan could ascend to power after three weeks of peaceful protests that ousted longtime leader Serzh Sarkisian last month.
“Armenians! Armenians!” shouts Narek before starting to sing a rap song about an everyday life in the streets of Yerevan.
For one of his fans, Eduard Eghoyan, the hit song is a call for “hope” despite a litany of problems in the poor ex-Soviet country of 2.9 million people. “This rap comes from the depths of our souls and speaks of our hardships,” said the young IT engineer. “Armenia’s biggest problem today is corruption”.
The small South Caucasus nation ranks 107th out of 180 countries in the Transparency International’s corruption perception index.
Another fan, Karen Vardanyan, likes Narek’s lyrics but was forced to skip the concert at the Downtown Club.
“The ticket costs 10,000 drams (17 euros), it’s too expensive,” he said.
The 23-year-old web designer said he earns 175,000 drams (300 euros) a month and has to pay 260,000 drams in tuition fees every year.
“And I’m enrolled in a public university!” he fumed.
Like most Armenians, Eghoyan and Vardanyan pin their hopes on the 42-year-old leader of the opposition movement, Pashinyan.
The only candidate for the country’s top political office, Pashinyan is expected to be elected prime minister by lawmakers on Tuesday after a huge wave of opposition protests against the ruling elites shook the country in recent weeks. “There is no alternative (to Pashinyan) and I expect a lot from him,” said Vardanyan.
Sporting a tousled beard, a bronze tan and a baseball cap, Armenia’s political supernova has channelled people’s desire for change into a broad protest movement which led to the resignation of veteran leader Sarkisian last month and transformed the country’s political landscape.
Pashinyan has built his popularity on promises to tackle widespread poverty, oust corrupt elites and reign in powerful oligarchs that wield massive influence over Armenian politics.
Tens of thousands of Pashinyan supporters for several weeks rallied in Yerevan and other cities and last week virtually shut down the capital after the ruling Republican Party blocked Pashinyan’s first attempt to get elected prime minister.
Pashinyan called for a halt to protests after the Republicans caved in and said they would back the opposition leader’s candidacy after a nationwide general strike cut key transport links and suspended railway traffic. — AFP