ARMENIA’S MISSING GIRLS

by Ramona Drosner

In about one year from now, male adults will outweigh females in Armenia. The reason: due to social pressure, many women abort their unborn daughters. A report on women’s fight for gender equality in Armenia.

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“It’s better to have one blind son than seven healthy daughters”, or “It would have been better if she had delivered a stone.” Such proverbs were common in South Caucasus not too long ago, and there still is a privilege of sons. Armenia loses almost 1400 girls every year due to sex-selective abortions. The small country made it on third place in the global statistics of gender biased abortions, following China and Azerbaijan.

Society demands of women to give birth to a son

Armenian women at reproductive age face a dilemma: “You must have a son for maintaining the roots of the family,” explains Siran Hovhannisyan, who is a lecturer at Yerevan State University (YSU) and does research on sex-selective abortions. “You need to have better offspring, to have a boy, a man, who is feeding the family. You’re not getting out of this cycle.”

Although barely anyone speaks about it, many women experience social pressure. “As if it was in the air somehow,” Siran Hovhannisyan describes it. Her parents never pressured her to have a son one day, but from young age on she had a feeling, that it must be a lot easier to be a boy growing up in Armenia.

7.200 women aborted their daughters in the past five years

Despite its huge progress in case of digitalization, and the actual changes in politics – Armenia still has a traditional image of society: A son is more valued than a daughter, he is carrying the family name, he earns the family’s money, he takes care of the elderly. For a long time it was common practice for newly weds to move in with the husband’s family, daughters left their parents to live with their parents-in-law. Things are changing, especially in Yerevan, but there still is a big difference to other, smaller cities and rural areas, as Siran Hovhannisyan explains: “In Yerevan people are trying to get out of those expectations and have a life of their own, also to not have this conflict“.

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Yerevan yard, photo: Ramona Drosner

A conflict which led about 7200 women in Armenia to conduct sex-selective abortions within the past 5 years, as United Nations findings state – the number of unreported cases probably being much higher. Cases in which women don’t go to the hospital but try traditional methods to get rid of their unborn: “There are so many stories,” says Siran Hovhannisyan and sighs. “Jumping from the seventh stairs; or the pregnant woman lies down, so that her husband can beat her in the stomach. It is terrible.”

The lack of women wasn’t a topic in Armenia for a long time

Has Armenia not learned from the bad example of China’s one-child-policy, which led to a shortage of women in the country? “We want to have daughters, but our problem is, that we want more sons than daughters,” explains Tsovinar Harutyunyan of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “When it comes to the third child, they say, a third daughter is too much.” There is even a woman’s name for them: Bavakan, which is Armenian for ‘enough’.

The lack of women wasn’t a topic in Armenia for a long time. “In Armenia UNFP was the first agency to notice, that statistically something was wrong the new borns”, Tsovinar Harutyunyan says. This was in 2011, however, the deviation from natural sex ratio at birth goes back to the 1990s. Tsovinar Harutyunyan and her team raised awareness for the topic, brought together politicians, the church and civil organizations. Their efforts showed in decreasing numbers: From a ratio of 120 boys to 100 girls in the early 2000s, to 110 boys per 100 girls in 2017. In comparison the German average ratio in 2017 was 97 men to 100 women.

Progress is slow because it is hard to mediate the problem. You cannot see a lack of women in Armenia: “Sure, in schools you see definitely more boys than girls,” says Narine Beglaryan, a former gynecologist who works on gender issues with Tsovinar Harutyunyan at the UNFPA. “But at the marriageable age, you have more women, because men mainly migrate. You find a lot of villages, where you cannot find one man. It is a challenge for our research.“

Politics should be on the move

To help improve the situation sex-selective abortions were legally forbidden two years ago. But the law is controversial among women’s organizations. “I am not sure, if it is bringing any good at this moment.” Siran Hovhannisyan is sceptical: “The only thing, that the law helped with, was to make doctors afraid of taking this steps, not registering abortions.” The YSU lecturer is afraid that the rate of illegal abortions might increase in response to this law, as has been the case in China and India The women of UNFPA , however, are more optimistic: “We know it is not perfect, but we think it is a step forward. It is a message from the government.”

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A building in Yerevan center, photo: Ramona Drosner

All three women hope that after the elections in December 2018, the new Government will tackle the problem with more effort. This year, with all the changes in politics, nothing really moved forward. “Many things have been on stand-by mode,” Tsovinar Harutyunyan explains. She criticizes that before, women haven’t been involved in decision making positions, but the velvet revolution makes her more optimistic, she talks about marches of pregnant women and mothers with newborns: “The moving engine for this revolution were young people and women.” Tsovinar Harutyunyan says. “Now the Government really has a lot to do, to show through their actions: Women are equal, women do count.”

Ramona-2Ramona Drosner, is a freelance journalist, currently working for the ARD headquarters in Berlin, covering German politics. Being half German, half Swiss, she is interested in cultural understanding and European affairs. She studied Journalism at the German Journalism School (DJS) in Munich and Media and Communication in Augsburg and Washington D.C.

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Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange, Uncategorized

‘THERE IS A NEED FOR ANALYTICAL TEXTS IN ARMENIA, EVERYONE REPEATS WHAT HAS ALREADY BEEN SAID’: Interview with Irina Ghulinyan-Gerz

by Gayane Asryan

Irina Ghulinyan-Gerz is a freelance journalist and analyst in Berlin. She is the author and co-author of several books on Eastern Partnership, European Union, Turkey and Armenia relations and Russia’s role.

She follows the German and Armenian press on a daily basis and knows that important political changes today are successful only if there is media support.  

Irina says that following from afar, she can see the flaws of the Armenian media more clearly. “There are many urgent issues lying on the surface and not being opened up, and solutions to these issues are not made clear for the audience and the public.”

She thinks that the media is dominated by political discourse, which is colourful, emotionally blended, and opens up a wide range of interpretations, while professional, expert opinion is minimal.

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The media publicised the Velvet Revolution in international media, but later analyses diminished. Why?

Perhaps rapid and unpredictable political developments don’t allow the media to focus on the analysis at the moment, but there is a great need.

I think now there is an urgent need for analytical texts, everyone repeats what has already been said, they are in a cycle.

Do you agree that Armenia’s European integration is covered with the same approach?

After 2013, the topic of European integration has been consistently presented in the media in contrast to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) membership.

This contradiction constrains content analysis of cooperation in both formats. It is clear that that they had long been preparing for the EU Association Agreement in Armenia, and the sudden change of course towards the EEU evoked negative response among the public and media.

By the way, the content of the choice is not so important as the unexpected U-turn made without any discussion in the National Assembly and with the public.

Following that, the coverage of the European direction programs in general had a positive focus, unlike the coverage of the Eurasian economic cooperation, which was negative.

At first it was understandable, as the inertia of the surprise U-turn was still present. But then it was necessary to get rid of it and focus on the content.

In general, topics in the Armenian society are discussed under the logic of “or this, or that,” which does not allow for the topic to be expanded.

It has become a culture, which is also reflected in the press. It would be desirable that the media gets rid of it.

How can public demand be met?

European integration or Eurasian Economic Union are not a priority for ordinary citizens of Armenia. First of all because the choice has already been made, and the boundaries of cooperation are defined.

At some point, it became clear to the public that, regardless of the cooperation format, the progress of Armenia depends on the will of the Armenian authorities and not on the membership to any European or other organization.

The media can generate public demand if they link big changes to the daily life of people. Help people see the connection of advantages or disadvantages of joining this or that union with their everyday problems.

Media show what new opportunities of changes are offered in certain spheres of life. Otherwise, they will not be interesting to people.

Should journalists artificially foster discussions?

Usually, we cannot impose an artificial agenda on the reader, because ordinary citizens have their own agendas comprising a long list of issues.

In general, in a transition messy period, it is difficult to develop a diverse media agenda as long as everyone is waiting for the snap parliamentary elections.

After the elections, the issues will be on a much broader, meta-level agenda, to see in what direction Armenia is heading, whether she is guided by tried or new methods and what kind of cooperative solutions there are to certain problems, etc.

These issues should, of course, be discussed, and also be covered in combination with ordinary citizens’ so-called micro-level agendas.

During the Velvet Revolution, many media outlets were prone to cover by supporting the new force.

And a professional issue emerged: journalists were confused with their duties and desires as persons reporting news and individuals.

It was often difficult to distinguish whether it was a citizen reporting from the scene, who just happened to have a microphone in his/her hand, or a journalist. Of course, it is understandable that both journalists and citizens are dissatisfied with the situation continuing for decades, and it was impossible not to hear delight in their voices.

It was a whirlwind of events, which many journalists were not ready for, and in the euphoria they obviously struggled to see the boundaries between the professional and the personal.

So there is need to change?

Over the years, journalists were covering mostly so-called static, predictable content and ongoing events and developments.

The reason was not that they were lazy, but the dull, bogged life, where everything used to happen within a framework decided in advance.

The revolution was a new situation, with fast and unpredictable dynamics.

Today, there is no need to wait for bigger and faster changes from the media, it will still take time. The chances of change will increase, when stability is established in the country, and clear rules of the game are set and remain in effect.

For example, the media should get rid of the trend (which can already be noticed) of continuing by inertia the old practice of self-censorship and be ready to make their real financial resources and flows transparent.

Otherwise, it is hard to believe in the media that criticize an institution, a political force, the hidden financial flows of government officials, unless they are transparent themselves.

And what can be done about the stormy emotions on social media?

The media field is competing with social platforms. Social media has become an irreplaceable and leading environment for the discharge of emotions.

The media, in this regard are losing, since they are useless for that, they are mostly interested in listening to and disseminating opinions rather than emotions.

Another advantage is that the media do not use foul language, and fortunately there are many who appreciate that.

Social platforms produce large amounts of information at great speed. Doubts about the credibility of the big part of this information is a winning card for the media.

Traditional media still has advantage in terms of possible comprehensiveness of the content.

Discussing and analysing the content provides the audience with the opportunity to make conclusions. The episodic information presented on social media platforms, the infinite admiration or offences towards it do not give chance to discuss content.

Foul language on social networks should be restricted by legislative regulations. That is an issue in all countries, and there are different ways to resolve it.

But let’s not forget that swearing was widely used in Armenian society before the discovery of social networks. And it still continues to be so.

This is a manifestation of civilizational deficit in the ability to relate with one another, which is often viewed as part of mentality and thus, it is justified, however sad it is.

gayane4Gayane Asryan has been doing journalism since her student years. She mainly covered social and economic spheres. Currently she works at Media Initiatives Center as a journalist for Media.am, covering the spheres of freedom of speech in Armenia, social networking opportunities and the advertising market in the country. In her articles she often focuses on fact-checking, statistics, and compares data with alternative sources. She has experience in public relations as well.

Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange, Uncategorized

ARMENIA BEFORE ELECTIONS: OPTIMISM PREVAILS

by Daniel Heinrich

Armenia is undergoing turbulent times. Only a couple of months after the “Velvet Revolution” parliamentary elections are being held on December 9th.  Especially the youth of the country is excited about the political changes.  There are however some who are worried about too much optimism.

At least a dozen floors, lots of concrete walls and no Wi-Fi in the seemingly endless corridors: on a rainy morning in mid-November the Armenian Ministry of Science and Education in the center of Yerevan does not really give the impression of being a place where spirits would roam freely and thoughts could be expressed openly.

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Hovhannes Hovhannisyan

Hovhannes Hovhannisyan however proves that first impression wrong, he does not mince his words: “You can definitely quote me on anything”. Hovhannisyan has been the Deputy Minister of Education and Science in Armenia for a little more than half a year. It is a demanding job: “A lot of people in Armenia are under the impression that from one day to another they will start to live much better lives. That all the problems that we have had in the last 20 years will be solved right away.” Hovhannisyan seems to be a realist, his prediction for the near future matches that assessment of his personality: “There is a danger,” he says, “that people will get frustrated with politicians if the results do not show immediately.”

Huge expectations after “Velvet Revolution”

Hopes are high indeed in the small Caucasian country tucked away in between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Turkey. In the beginning of this year hundreds of thousands of Armenians had taken to the streets to demonstrate against an incredibly corrupt government and political elite which had been ruling the country for the past two decades.

The result of the protests: the old government was ousted and Nikol Pashinyan, the charismatic leader of the mass protests, became new prime minister. Ever since then, the political landscape of the country has been changing rapidly, the old ruling party, the “Republican Party”, has been losing more and more power and influence. The parliamentary elections in December will most likely further strengthen the power of  “My Step“, the political alliance around Nikol Pashinyan.

Skepticism about political culture

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Anush Sedrakyan

Not everyone however is completely pleased with the direction the country is heading. Anush Sedrakyan is a Professor of Literature at Yerevan State University. Sedrakyan is a well-known figure in Armenian politics and has worked as an advisor for the second president of Armenia, as well as for the former secretary of the country’s National Security Council. She does not hold the political culture in her country in high regards: “Unfortunately the people in Armenia are driven by emotions and euphoria. Armenians are neither aware of their basic civil rights nor of their duties. Both are incremental if you want to live in a democratic country.” Sedrakyan, who claims to have declined to work for the new government, says that Armenians should participate a lot more when it comes to politics: “People in this country have always been kind of passive when it comes to politics. They always asked the government and the politicians, not themselves, to bring about change. You could apply this attitude to any given subject: Be it the educational system, social structures or civil rights.”

Youth is full of hope

Mikael Zolyan

Mikael Zolyan is one of the people who want to become an active part in Armenian politics. The 38-years old is an historian by profession and is running for public office for the first time in his life. What he lacks in basic infrastructure to run a political campaign – a proper office, staff or even business cards – he wants to make up for with a great deal of enthusiasm: “The revolution has changed the mentality of the people. Armenians realize that they can do something. That their actions actually do have an impact on the decisions of the government. Be it by protesting, by voting or by taking part in public discussions.” Zolyan is enthralled by the recent events and highly optimistic about the future: “I do hope that those elections do not only shape the future outlook of the parliament but also that they help to change the political culture in this country permanently.”

Zolyan is not the only former academic who almost idealizes the so called “Velvet Revolution”. Yana Mkrtchyan was one the many young people who took to the streets to protest against the old and corrupt political elites. The 32-years old is sitting in an artsy café in downtown Yerevan. She is the director of a non-governmental organization which focuses on the strengthening of democratic values within the youth of the country. She is a little bit worried, she admits, that a lot of young, inexperienced people will enter politics. On the other hand, she says, she still is “highly optimistic about the future. Before the Velvet Revolution everybody was so disillusioned and demotivated. Nobody could have imagined that we could change this corrupt political system. But we proved them all wrong. It actually happened. We did it. People in Armenia now have the feeling to be part of something important.”

Historic elections in December

A couple blocks away from the soft background tunes of the cafés and the hip Yerevan youth, inside the concrete walls of the Ministry of Education, Deputy Minister Hovhannes Hovhannisyan is glad to hear those words. For him, young people like Zolyan and Mkrtchyan will bring Armenia forward: “You know why I am hopeful for the future? This new government is not corrupt. Many of the people left their old jobs with good salaries. Those people would not go into politics to make money, they went into politics or went to the streets to demonstrate because they believed in something greater: Those people really want to change something in this country.”

In what way and how much people will be able to change something in Armenia remains to be seen. However one thing seems for sure: The parliamentary elections on December 9th will be a historic step for this small Caucasian country and its three million people.

danielDaniel Heinrich is a journalist who works for Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, and Deutschlandfunk (DLF), the National Public Radio in Germany. He studied International Relations and Turkish history in Munich and Istanbul. He reported from Azerbaijan, Jordan, Bosnia and Turkey. Originally from Bavaria, he does like the mountains, Oktoberfest and Bayern München. He is based in Bonn.

Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange, Uncategorized

THEMATIC EMPHASES OF GERMAN AND ARMENIAN MEDIA

by Gayane Asryan

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Armenian-German relations are always in the center of attention of the media. Both in Armenia and Germany the media keeps following the development of events, however they write something, when topics really start stirring some noise.

The scope of topics is not that broad, covering predominantly regional, political, cultural and educational issues. In terms of events, it is difficult to attract the attention of the German media, taking into account the global developments and their relation to the German audience.

The Velvet Revolution was one of those events, which were covered and gained support in the German media. In a sense, it was unprecedented, because for years on end none of the events occurred in Armenia ever appeared in that country’s media.

“Initially, Germany had the highest of opinions as to why the events in Armenia should gain a following here: even the Turkish lobbyists were actively sharing that view,” says the head of German-Armenian Society NGO Raffi Kantian.

In his words, during the heated days of the revolution, German media began to cover and watch every minute, awaiting new developments. The most reputable media outlets kept the subject in the focus of attention, and many materials were published.

“Figuratively speaking, the media in Germany took the responsibility of covering the Velvet Revolution, because besides domestic politics, there was a new foreign policy issue to be found here,” explains Kantian.

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Raffi Kantian

Moreover, Kantian underlines that the coverage of the revolution was incomparable with that of SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area). The subject of SEPA did not become a hot topic in local media, and so it was not discussed.

“The German press may make references to Armenia in connection with the entry of any official in Baku, or in the context of the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s foreign policy,” the head of the NGO continues.

The German public can discover more information about Armenia-related articles on the German-Armenian Society NGO website. The print version of the materials, according to Kantian, is accessible to all – from officials to ordinary citizens.

One of the largest libraries in Germany has copies of the organization’s “Armenisch-Deutsche Korrespondenz” magazine.  It is becoming a valuable source for Bachelor’s and Master’s research papers.

“Our issue is not only the publication of the magazine, but also its dissemination in order to gain as large of a circle as possible and involve correspondents. We give it to the German Parliament, some key members of the European Parliament, foreign diplomats in Germany, Austria and Switzerland,” adds Kantian.

The topics and authors are different, but the overall direction is Armenian-German relations, regional developments, economic integration policies and opportunities for the Eastern Partnership.

From a thematic perspective, the German press is heavily burdened. Journalist and analyst Irina Ghulinyan-Gerz, who has been cooperating with and following German media, shares a similar view. “In Germany, media consumers have so many topics of interest that you shouldn’t get upset that a small country like Armenia doesn’t get much attention here. When compared to other countries of the same scale, of course, there is more coverage, especially in the context of the Karabakh-Azerbaijan conflict,” the journalist comments.

Irina notes that the German reader can no longer bear the burden of the world, especially in recent times, when more focus is placed on social issues.

“At the moment, there has been an increase of rental prices for citizens, which has become a serious challenge for Germans, and on the other hand, we can see discontent and concerns regarding the return of pensions. People here need coverage of these topics,” our interlocutor observes.

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Irina Ghulinyan-Gerz

According to the expert, readers are not only interested in Pan-German and Pan-European topics, but also fascinating events taking place all over the world. “Do you understand how many started and unfinished wars, crises and protests there are? And in light of all of this, Armenia can only become interesting with events like the Velvet Revolution.”

 

In order to clarify the process of choosing what subjects to cover, Irina draws parallels between the German and Armenian press in the context of the EU-Armenia Association Agreement. The news on not signing the Association Agreement did not make a lot of noise in German press, whereas for the Armenian media it became the number one issue for several months.

“After 2013, the scope of coverage has always presented the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union as being at odds with one another.  All the topics were built on this contradiction, emphasizing what we lost, what we could have had in case of this or that economic opportunity,” says Ghulinyan-Gerz.

The coverage of European learning programs, in her opinion, has a positive emphasis in Armenia and was understandable for a certain period of time, however it should be freed from that situation and be more meaningful.

“The methods for making political decisions should not be tied to circles of cooperation,” she says, adding that the Armenian media today does not give the people the opportunity to see the solution to the issues in either of these unions.

Meanwhile, the journalist is sure that the subject of European integration should be opened and clarified with regard to the possible changes in specific spheres of life in the case of integration.

“As in Germany, so in Armenia, people prioritize many issues, the only difference being that the German reader doesn’t consider Armenia’s integration to be an important topic, whereas the Armenian audience ought to be directly interested in this topic,” notes Ghulinyan-Gerz.

In both countries, the media responds to the interests of the audience from time to time regarding Armenian-German relations, as well as the issues of European integration, and that, according to the journalist, is enough in order to be informed.

Journalist Ghulinyan-Gerz is convinced that even though constant media attention can play a crucial role on the road of Armenia’s European integration, however it should be done through public demand and not artificially.

gayane4Gayane Asryan has been doing journalism since her student years. She mainly covered social and economic spheres. Currently she works at Media Initiatives Center as a journalist for Media.am, covering the spheres of freedom of speech in Armenia, social networking opportunities and the advertising market in the country. In her articles she often focuses on fact-checking, statistics, and compares data with alternative sources. She has experience in public relations as well.

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WHAT MATTERS IS THE REVOLUTION IN MIND, NOT THE HEAD OF THE REVOLUTION

by Luise Glum

A crowd of people has gathered in front of the government building at Republic Square, central Yerevan. Curious passengers stop by, turn on their live-streams, nervous police officers try to keep control. “The problem that we have brought up was neglected!” a young man complains. “Excuse me, how is it neglected?” Nikol Pashinyan objects, “We are aware of the obligations we have towards you. I know that you might think that problems can be solved in one month, but sometimes it happens in the government that solutions experience certain delays.”

Few days before the parliamentary elections in Armenia at December 9th, the times of euphoric exuberance seem to be over. In April this year, at this exact place, protests against former president Serzh Sargsyan reached its climax and transformed the square into a symbol of freedom and self-determination for the Armenian people. Today, the acclaimed leader of the revolution Nikol Pashinyan sees himself confronted with more and more critical voices – What has become of the globally celebrated “velvet” revolution?

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Central Yerevan. © Vartges Lylozian

It wasn’t really a revolution, is what one hears a lot during these days. That sounds little astonishing  coming from Armen Ashotyan of the discharged former ruling party “Republican Party of Armenia“, who speaks of a takeover of power without any changes in the political order and wants to warn European countries of such a “manipulation of the public“. But also officials like Ekaterina Dorodnova from the European Delegation in Armenia prefer to call it a “peaceful transition“ – a profound innovation of structures and processes cannot be seen so far.

We must face the hurtful truth: Nikol Pashinyan is a populist. For Armen Ashotyan he is the “grand-master of easy answers”, who “promised everything to everyone and changed nothing”. Expressed more carefully, Pashinyan has created unrealistically high expectations among the public which he can’t do justice to: in his speech at the celebration of 100 days of his rule, he claimed to have solved the problem of corruption among ruling elites completely, saying “all citizens have direct control over everything in Armenia” and promising to take back every single Armenian dram that was taken away from the state for personal enrichment. Pashinyan’s extreme popularity developed thanks to his compelling rhetoric into an almost biblical admiration, which could fade away as fast as it appeared. He must deliver, today rather than tomorrow. And so far, he takes his time.

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100 days celebration at Republic Square. © Vartges Lylozian

Armenia’s political system is restrained by informal power relations, in which individuals and groups want to see their specific concerns be resolved directly – better known as clientelism. Claim of the revolutionaries has been to tackle exactly these structures, to democratize the country, to fight corruption. While they might be able to slowly counteract clientelistic structures on a local occurrence, the mindset of clientelism seems to be simply transferred to a national level. The approach of asking leaders to resolve one’s concerns instantly and directly exchanging outcome for support is remaining. In a democracy, changes take time, decisions have to be taken according to prescriptions, reforms have to be debated, decided and implemented. Even though bureaucracy should never gain the upper hand, civil society usually can’t expect immediate results. And if they do so, their disappointment is almost inevitable.

Until now, the support among the people for Nikol Pashinyan stays at an unearthly level, according to estimates, his party could win 70% of the votes – with the consequence of a breakdown of the opposition. Additionally, many former critical journalists and political analysts now line up for Pashinyan’s party and lose their independence. And who decides to stay part of the fourth power, is confronted with a public, that harshly neglects any critic of the rulers. Talking to journalists, the issue of self-censorship frequently comes up: “There is a problem of not wanting to criticize Pashinyan’s government. Media and journalists consider themselves to be protectors of the revolution. After the elections, hopefully they will gain more distance again: the goal is to keep the media critical of the government,” says Nouneh Sarkissian who works for “Media Initiatives Center.”

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Gyumri streets – starting point for the revolution. © Vartges Lylozian

At the same time, Pashinyan’s populistic course was the kind of rhetoric that made the peaceful takeover possible in the first place. Populism is a pretty negatively perceived terminus, a synonym for undemocratic, power-craving politics. The current emergence of populist tendencies in Europe, the USA and post-soviet countries is accordingly to its manifestations correctly labeled as a challenge or problem, that must be confronted decidedly to defend democratic institutions. But populism is first and foremost a political strategy, without any specific ideological content, claims French philosopher Chantal Mouffe in her new book “For a Left Populism.” For Mouffe, the left-wing populism is even necessary in order to defend democracy against the predominant neoliberal consensus amongst the established political parties. These constantly converge their positions, while democratic values like equality and sovereignty of the people descend. What is needed to rupture this “consensus of the centre,” is the creation of a political frontline between the “people” and the “oligarchy” – populism delivers the political strategy to do so. Unfulfilled demands of the public need to be bundled together, with the aim of a “radicalization of democracy”.

Even though Pashinyan expressed his support for a liberalization of the Armenian markets and the opening for foreign investors, which means a stronger integration into the “neoliberal hegemony,” his “velvet” revolution can be understood as a success story of Mouffe’s reading of populism. Pashinyan’s economic policies are better seen as necessary step to dissolve oligarchic, even criminal structures, which are visible for example in the sugar monopoly. His whole agenda was built on precisely this frontline between the “oligarchy” and the “people”, the refusal of corrupt elites. He was able to reduce the upset of the Armenians to a common denominator. After the elections, we shall see if this style of politics can do justice to the diversity of underlying demands: conflicts of interest, like jobs versus environmental protection, and unpopular decisions can’t be avoided forever. Sooner or later the support will shrink and by than he needs an agenda that exceeds the union of the people: “The revolution has ended. Time to give up the revolutionary vocabulary, time to give up the emotional, euphoric approach. Time to govern,” demands Anush Sedrakyan, political analyst.

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Yerevan government building. © Vartges Lylozian

In a couple of days, the former revolutionaries will turn into elites. For all criticism the Republican Party frequently expresses about the inexperience and lack of organization of Civil Contract, the hope for a non-corrupt, able and democratically minded government outweighs their concerns by far. What sounds like a matter of course, applies on no account to all deputies and intimates of the Republican Party. Connections to mafia-style structures used to be the norm, corruption was commonplace: the bodyguards of the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, killed a man in 2001 at a café toilet, because he greeted the president with the casual words “Hi Rob.” Now, Kocharyan faces investigations of his role in the deadly 1 March protests in 2008. Manvel Grigoryan, former Republican Party deputy and military general, was arrested in June for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. He is also convicted of embezzling canned food that was donated for soldiers during the April War by kindergarten and school children that he reportedly used to feed his makeshift zoo. This compares with the new elite under Nikol Pashinyan that numbers a plurality of political analysts, journalists and activists, employees of universities or NGOs.

Furthermore, it is expected that the upcoming parliamentary elections will take place without any electoral fraud – again no matter of course. It used to be an established practice to buy votes on a grand scale and pressure voters. Already because the new government simply isn’t in the need to manipulate to attract enough votes, fair and free elections are likely. But above all, a political culture seems to evolve, in which no one wants to sell their vote for a few Armenian dram anymore.

To what extend the political culture renewed has yet to show. A “revolution in mind” would be a major achievement of the changes, since the self-conception of civil society as powerful political protagonists is fundamental to every democracy. Political analyst Mikael Zolyan is one of the freshman joining the political scene to support Civil Contract. He believes that it is the right time to actively participate in the country’s transition and feels for the first time optimistic about Armenia’s future: “It might be two steps forward, one step back. But it still is one step forward.”

UlrikeLuise Glum is studying political science, economics and religious studies in Munich. She started working in journalism at a local radio station and is now a freelancer based in Munich.

Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange, Uncategorized

800 YEARS OF GERMAN-ARMENIAN RELATIONS: LESS POLITICS, MORE SPIRIT

by Hakob Karapetyan

The profile picture of the official Facebook page of German-Armenian Society depicts a portrait of a bearded crowned man. This is Leo II (in Armenian Levon II), the ruler of medieval Armenia. At the end of the 12th century, located among the Byzantine Empire, the Crusader states and the Mohammedan sultanates, the Armenian principality of Cilicia was on the rise. Prince Levon Rubinyan negotiated for royal crown with the powers of that time, including the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany Frederick Barbarossa, supporting the latter on his territory during the Third Crusade.

After the sudden death of Frederick I, the Armenian prince continued good relations with Frederick’s son, Kaiser Heinrich VI. These contacts are, in fact, evidence of at least eight hundred year Armenian-German relations at the state level.

On August 24, 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Yerevan on an official visit, thus becoming the second leader of Germany to visit Armenia. The bilateral political agenda of the two countries is not so intense, economic relations can also hardly be considered as developed, despite the fact that Germany regularly turns out to be among Armenia’s top five trade partner countries with a turnover of about 130 million Euros.

The Chairman of German-Armenian Society Raffi Kantian says that the two countries have more cultural ties. In the second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries many Armenians received education in Germany, later playing a tangible role in science and art of Armenia. At the same time, many Germans lived in Armenia exploring history and ethnography. Scientific, educational and cultural ties are still ongoing.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), operating in Armenia since 1990, has provided scholarships to about 2,200 Armenian citizens. Many Armenian young people are looking for other opportunities to study at German universities.

Lala Mkrtchyan left for Germany in 2011: she studies at the University of Cologne. Studying in Germany is easy for Lala, because free education schedule allows her to combine it with work. “Although I am integrated into the country’s life, I accept the rules and morals, I feel comfortable and safe, sometimes I start having thoughts of returning to Armenia. In short, I feel in the middle of two countries,” says Lala.

Lala Mkrtchyan

Lala Mkrtchyan

Cologne is not only the actual center of about 50,000 Armenian community in Germany (here the German Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church is situated), but also a unique symbol of religious, racial, gender and other freedoms in Germany. That is just what attracts Lala in the city, which became native for her.

“The purpose of my coming to Germany is “education”. Yes, in inverted commas, because my real purpose was to change the place of residence for personal, financial and some other reasons. I am a very tolerant person and I feel good in a tolerant society. In Germany, although there are small problems with nationality, ethnicity, however in terms of attitude towards LGBT people or people with disabilities, I can see all of my dream morals here. Here a person is accepted the way he/she is. Just an example, which, I think, characterizes the difference very well: in the Armenian reality a divorced woman is condemned to be alone in her further life, she is not accepted by her friends, neighbors, and even family members. There is no such problem in the German society: a divorced woman can marry a few times or stay alone and be happy,” Lala adds.

She considers important that in Germany the state contributes to the promotion of tolerance in the society.

In Armenia the overwhelming majority of population is Christian, and their conservative approach in personal and family relationships is highly predominant here. After the Velvet Revolution of April 2018, whose targets were the fight against corruption and democratic reforms, the revolutionary leader Nikol Pashinyan was the first among the leaders of independent Armenia, who touched upon the problems of LGBT community in Armenia. Acting Prime Minister Pashinyan quite cautiously tried to send a message to Armenia’s strictly traditional public to face the problems of minorities and, above all, to refuse any aggressive behavior. “Our government may in some way avoid this question, but … in 10, 20 or 30 years there will inevitably be a government that will face this issue,” said Pashinyan during his speech at the RA National Assembly, referring to the LGBT community issues, in response to a question of one of the deputies. This position of Pashinyan was criticized from all sides: neither the minority supporters nor the conservative opposition liked his balanced approach.

“I wonder how the people [in Armenia] who became victims of a genocide, whose ancestors suffered from xenophobia, cannot but be intolerant towards their fellow citizens whose identity is different from theirs,” says Lala.

Democracy at Local Government Level

But many in Armenia, even fairly liberal-minded people, hardly believe that the rights of minorities can be protected at a proper level even under a democratically elected government. So far, the society is preparing to clean the Augean stables left by the previous government.

It is believed that democracy begins in the community. In the modern world, the state delegates its sovereignty to supranational connections on the one hand and to the local authorities on the other. It is not accidental that in Armenia the departure from democracy (which started in the second half of the 1990s) was accompanied by decrease in the level of autonomy of local governments. More than 900 urban and rural communities had only formal status of local self-government. Either in a rural community with a population of several thousand people or in the city of Gyumri with 150 thousand residents, or the million-plus capital Yerevan it was impossible to get a seat without having the “OK” from the central government and from Serzh Sargsyan himself. The authoritarian essence of government was also reflected in the relations between communal bodies and civil society organizations, including the media. The noose around the freedom of coverage of the work of social structures was getting tighter. In early 2018 the RA National Assembly adopted a law that prohibited the presence of journalists at the meetings of Yerevan Council of Elders, and added to that complicated media representatives’ work in the city hall. Lawmakers attributed this to security concerns. Meanwhile, dozens of human rights organizations stated that the real purpose of the change was to silence journalists.

Levon Barseghyan, Chairman of the Asparez Journalists’ Club, believes that the urban community, unlike the state structures, should be more transparent in its relations with society. “[The former] government attempted to limit the rights of people by the law, rejecting the philosophy of local government. Not only journalists, but also all those, who are willing, have the right to attend the meetings of the council of elders,” Barseghyan says.

In Berlin City Parliament, which is also the legislature of the State of Berlin, the entrance is open every day. For a journalist from Armenia, who in his own country is forced to call several people in order to enter the city parliament, it is an unusual situation: on showing the press card, he is allowed into the parliament building without any additional question. After a brief inspection, he enters the building and moves freely. In the meeting room, in addition to the seats for parliamentarians, there are also special seats for media representatives and civil society. Danny Freymark, a 35-year-old member of parliament, was elected to parliament in 2011. All these years, he was considered the youngest parliamentarian in Berlin. He says that the security check point has appeared in the building relatively recently, following terrorist attacks in Europe. But this does not prevent journalists from communicating with members of Parliament whenever they want: “This is normal, very normal. After all, we work for people, we do not work for us”, says Freymark.

In September 2018, due to early elections, the Yerevaners chose a new, revolutionary city government. The old regulations, however, still formally remain in force. The newly elected mayor of the city Hayk Marutyan stated his team’s commitment to work openly with the media.

The journalistic community of Armenia is cautiously optimistic with regard to this statement. “I hope that these people (the new city-government) will work more transparently with journalists than the previous government,” says journalist Lilit Hovhannisyan, proposing to use the European experience.

HakobHakob Karapetyan studied International Relations (Bachelor) and International Law (Master) at Yerevan State University. He is a freelance journalist since 2010. He has been working for A1+ online TV, and in parallel he has been writing articles for information-analytical websites. He is interested in the topics of peaceful settlement of conflicts in the South Caucasus, as well as problems of corruption and electoral crimes in Armenia. Since 2016 he has been cooperating with the Public Television of Armenia as journalist, screenwriter and editor of various projects. Since October 2018 he has been appointed as Spokesperson of Yerevan Mayor. 

Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange, Uncategorized

PULL AND PUSH AFTER THE REVOLUTION

by Fabian Schäfer

After the revolution in April 2018, Armenia seems to be changing. Some who thought of leaving the country now find new hope. Others in the diaspora are now more than ever interested in coming back. But Pashinyan is not convincing enough for everyone.

Today, not too many people are walking on the square, named after Armenian-French singer Charles Aznavour. It is November, cold and damp, and the rain just stopped for some minutes. You can easily count the few people daring to be outside. It is a great view from Paparazzi Café. Located on the 7th floor, you not only see the Square, but also Moscow Cinema and Grand Hotel Yerevan.

While it is grayish outside, pink, purple, and green are the dominating colors inside the café. Rose prints on the armchairs, industrial style lamps, and a wall decal asking “Depresso? Have a cup of espresso!” make the café a cozy, Western-style-modern place, not different to the ones in London or Berlin.

Anahit Khalatian, 35, is the vice director of Paparazzi café and club. She works there for over three years now. Before that, she was volunteering one year through the program Birthright Armenia. This non-profit organization “helps provide opportunities for young diaspora Armenians to come and experience Armenia – not in a touristic way, but on an everyday life experience”, explains Hasmik Hayrapetyan, director of marketing at Birthright Armenia. Around 200 participants take part in the program per year.

In 2015, Anahit Khalatian was one of them. After her year of volunteering, she got the job offer at Paparazzi café. And she said yes. “This is my country. I am happier here, I feel home here”, she says. Anahit was born in Ashtarak, North of the capital Yerevan, but when she was twelve years old, her parents left to Moscow due to the bad economic situation in post-soviet Armenia. Anahit’s parents were not the only ones leaving. Between 1991 and 1998, 750.000 Armenians left the country, mainly to Russia. And still, many people are emigrating: About 30- to 40.000 young Armenians between 16 and 30 are moving away from their home country every year.

This leads to certain problems – there is a lack of well-educated experts in the country. Anahit Khalatian wanted to be part of the solution by returning to Armenia. “My country needed me”, she explains. “In Russia, I gathered experiences and skills that I can use here now.” According to Hasmik Hayrapetyan from Birthright Armenia, about ten percent of the participants stay in the country as Anahit did.

After the revolution in April, one could think that many more Diaspora-Armenians might be interested in Birthright Armenia. That is not the case, explains Hasmik Hayrapetyan. “I cannot say there is a huge difference in the number of applications”, she says. “But the motivation of many now is that they want to see Armenia after the revolution and are thinking of maybe staying.”

So, Nikol Pashinyan’s revolution seems to in a way attract at least some Diaspora-Armenians. But the political changes also make young people, who wanted to leave, stay. Spartak Shahbazyan, a 20-year old project assistant in an NGO in Yerevan, says, about 90 percent of his friends consider emigrating from Armenia. “There are a few friends that postponed their trip outside of Armenia because they wanted to see what happens next, and I even have a few friends that decided to stay just because there was a revolution”, he tells.

For Spartak Shahbazyan himself, emigration was never an option. “It’s not as much about patriotism as it is about making the place that I live in a better place”, he explains. “I don’t imagine myself being useful in a place like – I don’t’ know – Germany or Sweden. I imagine myself being useful here.”

One of his friends who already decided to leave is Harmik Makertoomian. The 20-year-old was born in the USA, but lives in Armenia for over 14 years. “The main reason I want to leave is that almost all of my good friends have left Armenia. I said goodbye to twelve friends this year. I don’t have anything specific keeping me here.” Harmik Makertoomian has already booked a flight to the USA in February. He adds that he had very high expectations from the revolution, but they were mostly disappointed. “I really do not see any change so far”, he says.

Coming back to Armenia, postponing the plan to leave or still emigrating: Only the future can show how big the impact of emigration and immigration of the Velvet Revolution will be. Anahit, Spartak, and Harmik have one thing in common: They all three agree that they want to wait the elections on December 9th, and then see how the country develops under Nikol Pashinyan and his government.

Fabian Schäfer, 24, currently based in Sofia (Bulgaria) for Erasmus studies, otherwise living in Cologne, is focusing on LGBT and queer issues, identity, responsibility, culture, and civil society. He works as a freelancer for the German press agency (dpa), ze.tt, and the German-Swiss magazine “Mannschaft”.

 

Posted in English, Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange