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Disobeying, deliberately refusing to comply with a law, a norm or an order

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Alain Navarra-Navassartian


From Local Revolts to Global Protest?

HYESTART, thematic partner of the 2020 FIFDH (Geneva Human Rights Film Festival).

Civil disobedience, as in the Armenian case, is indeed a form of political action that has "de-fatalized the past and reopened options." (Paul Ricoeur, 1992). The word "civil" is important because it is opposed, among other things, to the word "military". So it is the peaceful aspect of resistance that it emphasizes. "Civilian" also refers to the notion of citizen and citizenship, evoking a commitment to the community for the advent or restoration of democracy. It must therefore be stressed that civil disobedience develops in a democratic context, because in a totalitarian situation it tends to be described as "rebellion" or "terrorism". Armenia was therefore a democracy, but the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals had turned it into a civil oligarchy, an oligarchy in which not only the very rich, but also high-ranking officials or opinion leaders played a crucial role. On the other hand, the geography of this civil oligarchy was important, since in Armenia it operated in a fragmented and personalized form of government. The point here is not to define the nature of the distributional conflicts underlying the various political regimes, but to point out that the oligarchy and a certain electoral democracy coexisted within the same political regime in Armenia. The poorly controlled entry into a market economy decisively changed the terms of material and symbolic dependence, while having important repercussions on the political structure.

The civil resistance led by Nikol Pashinyan is that of the popular voice, a demand to be heard, to reappropriate one's voice (S. Laugier, 2004). In this sense, the discontent expressed publicly and galvanized by N. Pashinyan can boast of a democratic functionality. The rulers of the time were urged to take responsibility, identify the causes of the country's dysfunction and take action. It was a reminder of where the legitimacy of the rulers came from and, at the same time, a suspension of consent, since they refused to recognize themselves in the way and voices of the Armenian state representatives.

Civil resistance in Armenia, as in other countries of the former Soviet bloc, is not new. The various demonstrations in the late 1980s are proof of this. There is a history of social movements in Armenia that is historically mature, even if the rise of civil resistance does not mean that this development has taken place on a regular basis. But the space of these social movements, and even more so the one led by N. Pashinyan, has been the social space where part of the population has acquired or updated a set of skills for conducting collective actions and protest actions. Through his militant commitment and critical journalistic work, Pashinyan had a mastery of the patterns of action and perception inherent in collective action. This enabled him to unify the heterogeneity of mobilization in order to channel and clearly identify the adversary. By marching peacefully, he succeeded perfectly in demonstrating the strength and determination of the Armenian people.

If it was indeed 'a new order of life' (H. Blumer), one cannot deny the fact that retrograde mobilizations also accompanied this Velvet Revolution, underlining the constitutive ambiguity of the coalitions (Lilian Mathieu, 2012).

Nikol Pashinyan was able to structure the different movements within the movement, but what particularly characterizes his action is to have emphasized that, while breaking the social contract by refusing obedience to the state of which one was a citizen, disobeying it amounted to demanding the legitimate and legal realization of the rights of the Armenian citizen. Finally, resistance or disobedience was a matter of real respect for the social contract.

It remains to be defined to what consent has been given. For if one is ready to think of disobedience as an absence of predetermined rules of social functioning, are we ready to think that there are no rules that limit the acceptability of claims and their form? (S. Cavell, 1996).

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