The leader of Armenia's mass anti-government protests Nikol Pashinyan (C) greets supporters after being released from detention. His protest movement led to the resignation of veteran politician, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian
Yerevan (AFP) - Armenia's opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan led mass anti-government protests that culminated in the resignation of newly appointed Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and has declared he is ready to lead the country.
A fortnight ago, few in Armenia would have believed that the 42-year-old could bring tens of thousands of people out onto the streets of Yerevan and other cities, eventually forcing the veteran leader to resign.
Before these protests, Pashinyan was mostly associated with the tragic events following the 2008 presidential vote that first brought Sarkisian to power, when 10 people died in clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.
Authorities at the time accused Pashinyan of seeking to seize power and provoking mass riots.
The father-of-three went into hiding but surrendered to the authorities in 2009. He was released from jail in 2011 under a prisoner amnesty and elected to parliament the next year.
- 'Creative and daring' -
Pashinyan was born in 1975 in the small resort town of Ijevan in northern Armenia in the Soviet era.
He studied journalism at Yerevan State University but was expelled in 1995. He nevertheless worked as a reporter and chief editor before getting involved in politics.
Pashinyan set up the Civil Contract party, which entered parliament in 2017 as part of the opposition coalition.
With his fiery rhetoric and penchant for asking awkward questions, Pashinyan quickly became a thorn in the side of Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party.
After being injured along with dozens of others at a protest last week, the grey-bearded politician has since appeared at demonstrations with a bandaged arm and a black eye.
"Pashinyan differs from the majority of opposition figures in that he is daring, he's not afraid, he's creative, he's got a quick wit and stamina," sociologist Gevorg Pogosyan said.
Before he urged protesters to take to the streets earlier this month, he walked some 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Gyumri -- Armenia's second city -- to the capital Yerevan with his supporters, often sleeping out in the open.
His creativity was visible during a parliamentary election campaign last year, when he went into courtyards and turned the roofs of garages and benches into stages for his speeches.
These characteristics have made Pashinyan, who speaks fluent English as well as Russian, appealing to young Armenians who grew up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, observers say, although older generations have also turned out to join his street protests.
- Personifying the opposition -
"People go to him because they are confident he's not going to make secret deals with those in power, he won't betray the movement," Pogosyan told AFP.
Political analyst Aleksandr Iskandaryan said the opposition in the country had been crushed and Pashinyan was its sole figurehead.
"He has managed to personify (this movement)," Iskandaryan told AFP.
"Today the opposition in Armenia is him."
Asked last week if he was afraid of getting arrested, Pashinyan said: "In Armenia I feel comfortable everywhere, be it at home, on the street or in prison."
After Sarkisian's resignation, Pashinyan said that no one would now be able to take away the victory from people.
"You have won, the proud citizens of Armenia!" Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.
"I congratulate you, the victorious people."