City and state officials, dignitaries and religious leaders descended on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall this past Sunday, as a roaring crowd of more than 10,000 people chanted “Nikol, Nikol,” during a rally, awaiting the arrival of Nikol Pashinyan, the man behind Armenia’s 2018 “Velvet Revolution.”
The prime minister was appointed after the revolution, during which Armenian citizens peacefully overthrew the existing regime in exchange for a democratic administration.
Pashinyan has said he now works to revive democracy, establish free elections and an open, reformed government.
“It’s such a united feeling to be with fellow Armenians here,” Glendale resident Diana Stepanyan said. “This is a great accomplishment, and I feel very proud being here and educating [my] non-Armenian friends about [it].”
Welcoming Pashinyan, officials have applauded his vision and insurgence against mass corruption.
“With this prime minister, a new day of sunshine has come to Armenia; a day of democracy... of openness... of no more corruption,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
“It is time for us to pick up to visit, [to] invest, to support, to help the new Armenia rise, and rise, and rise under the leadership of this prime minister,” he added.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) described Los Angeles as the “capital of the Armenian diaspora.”
Having traveled to Armenia just last month, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis greeted Pashinyan, calling his visit “a truly historic gathering.”
She added, “My visit to the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies and the American University in Armenia allowed me to meet many of the ambitious and inspired young people who will be the future leaders and entrepreneurs of [the country].”
Saule Gusmanova, a Los Angeles resident from Kazakhstan, held a large Armenian flag on her shoulders as she talked about her concerns for democracy.
“I’m supporting the Armenian people because I think that they are right to protect their rights,” she said, claiming that there is a “similar situation” in her homeland, where Kazakh people feel that their opinions are not heard when it comes to foreign involvement.
Pashinyan took the stage and addressed rally-goers as “proud and spirited citizens,” thanking them for their increasing involvement in Armenia-related topics.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of young Armenians in America and elsewhere, who didn’t speak Armenian before, have begun learning after the revolution,” Pashinyan said.
“They have become more interested in their country, identity and history,” he added.
Additionally, Pashinyan recognized the plentiful “unjust” reasons behind mass emigration from Armenia, announcing his “great repatriation” campaign, encouraging those of Armenian descent to return to their home country.
He said that effort is a “high priority task” for Armenia’s government.
“We seek to engage the diaspora with its entire resource in the state-building process,” said Glendale’s former mayor and City Councilman Zareh Sinanyan, who now serves as Armenia’s high commissioner of diaspora affairs.
Sinanyan said he was confident in a population increase of over 3 million in nearly three decades.
However, he added, “it is imperative that the government creates the preconditions which will meet the mass repatriation process,” in the forms of repatriation laws and a more firm judiciary system.
With hopes to encourage investments and interest in Armenia, Pashinyan and Sinanyan both encouraged diasporans to engage more, whether it is in the form of purchasing or building homes and businesses, or even developing technology companies there.
With his visit nearing to an end, Pashinyan expressed hope for a more prosperous future Armenia and its people.
“It’s cool to be Armenian,” he shouted. “Every Armenian must have a home and citizenship in Armenia.”