By Michael Sicinski
An up-close, day-by-day chronicle of the 2018 Armenian revolution that deposed autocrat Serzh Sargsyan and brought reform-minded activist Niko Pashinyan to power, I Am Not Alone is a fascinating look at the contemporary structure of power and protest. While unabashedly pro-Pashinyan, the film reveals a bit more than it probably intends to about what it takes to bring about mass political change in the age of social media, neoliberal branding, and shifting global ideologies.
While explaining that Sargsyan had changed the laws to provide himself with a legally dubious third term, much like Putin and Erdoğan in their respective countries, I Am Not Alone is not so clear when it comes to articulating what Sargsyan and his party stood for, or what Pashinyan intends to replace them with, aside from “less corruption” and “more democracy.” And while Pashinyan, and the documentary, do take care to afford credit to the others who made the revolution possible, there is no disguising the fact that the future prime minister is the rock-star face of the movement, always front and centre, always live-streaming and leading the march.
Hovannisian doesn’t really question this, and the fact that this cult of personality is taken for granted—that Pashinyan’s theme song for the movement starts by positing an “I” rather than a “we”—speaks not only to the post-Soviet conditions under which power itself can be understood, but also to the regrettable kairos of our present age. We are told to think of democracy as diffuse and rhizomatic, yet we still seem to desire a figurehead on whom we can pin our hopes. It sometimes seems as though, like a “higher power” in a 12-step programme, it can be almost anything. (The revolution had a mascot, Chalo the Dog, who had his own Facebook account.)
So there has to be a symbol, it seems, for the people to get behind. But who’s behind the people? In the background, we can see corporate investment in Armenia: an HSBC branch here, a Coca-Cola stand there. If Sargsyan was good for global business, those corporate oligarchs wouldn’t just stand by and let Pashinyan upset the apple cart. The next time the prime minister isn’t alone, he might be walking in the other direction.