On the Armenian blogosphere (part 1 of 2 or possibly more)

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday July 24, 2009 in Reporter.web.review

Tigran Kocharian outside Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh.

Washington - The so-called Madrid proposals for settlement of the Karabakh conflict that were published on July 10. Armenian officials initially welcomed them; they were quickly rejected, most publicly by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

In addition to that, within hours, more than 150 bloggers joined a petition that denounced the proposals as contradicting Armenian interests. The petition demanded that President Serge Sargsian pull out of negotiations, dismiss foreign minister Edward Nalbandian, and "act henceforth only for the interests of the Armenian statehood and with valor typical to the Armenian people."

In recent years, bloggers in Armenia have taken an increasingly prominent role as activists and reporters, complementing and sometimes sidelining established politicians and journalists.

From the days of web logs

In its basic form, blogging has been around as long as personal websites have. In the early 1990s individuals - mostly students and academics with access to the Internet - first began to establish such sites and post their and others' writings in the form of personal journals on the web.

The word blogging, though, was not coined until 1999, after the original term "web log" first morphed into "we blog" and then contracted into a "blog"; the term "blogosphere," referring to the community of bloggers, came soon after.

As with most Internet technologies, blogging spread from the United States. Not surprisingly, some of the first Armenian blogs were started by Internet users from the diaspora.

Raffi Kojian, who launched one of the first comprehensive sites on things Armenian, was perhaps also the first Armenian blogger. Two years after moving to Armenia, he launched the Life in Armenia blog in April 2001, attracting fellow repatriates. This was still at the time when neither personal web sites nor blogging platforms were yet readily available, especially in Armenia.

Blogging has become a mainstream phenomenon in the last few years. By now, many if not most public figures, activists, writers, and other individuals seeking publicity have their own online blogs.

Many English-language bloggers use platforms such as www.blogspot.com or www.wordpress.com, while Russian- and Armenian-language bloggers prefer www.livejournal.com.

These platforms provide even the least technically savvy among Internet users with an opportunity to establish a free outlet for their ideas that is accessible anywhere in the world.

Armenian activism

Many Armenians appear to have embraced blogging as a uniquely fitting vehicle for individual expression, networking, and community organization.

Blogger Tigran Kocharian, who writes in Russian and Armenian under the screen name Pigh (elephant in Armenian), was the initiator of the Karabakh petition last week.

Pigh has more than 1,400 followers, which is more than the regular readership of many of Armenia's veteran media outlets. This week he was ranked 340th in popularity among 1.2 million LiveJournal blogs. (Chess champion and Russian opposition activist Garry Kasparov was just ahead at the 325th spot.)

Last week's bloggers' action was not the first to deal with the Karabakh conflict.

Pigh and several fellow bloggers first made mainstream impact in December 2007, when they staged a protest during the "Days of Azerbaijan," a cultural event held at a Yerevan school.

Last December they visited Armenian TV stations to promote the use of maps that accurately represent the extent of Armenian control in and outside Karabakh.

For a country where only about six percent of population regularly use the Internet, bloggers in Armenia seem to punch well above their weight.

Presidential blogging

Perhaps the highest exposure for bloggers in Armenia came last year, following the contentious presidential elections in Armenia.

President-elect Sargsian established his own LiveJournal blog to take questions from bloggers. Hundreds of questions were forwarded, of which dozens were asked during a subsequent Q&A with the president-elect that was then uploaded to YouTube; other questions were answered in writing online.

The initial launch had no follow-up, however. The president's blog has not been updated since that press conference.

But as many veterans will tell you, and this quasi-blogger knows from personal experience, it takes a special kind of dedication to keep one's blog going.

Visit Emil Sanamyan's http://yandunts.blogspot.com to see for yourself, and come back to this page for upcoming installments on the Armenian blogosphere.

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Charles Aznavour. Via Wikimedia

Calendar of Events

90-year-old music legend Charles Aznavour will perform in LA on September 13 and New York on September 20; for details about these and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.