Episode 289 | Recorded: October 26, 2023
Mr. Yenokyan, you were the head of RFE/RL in Yerevan from 2008 to 2013. During those years, you saw a period of significant political and social transformation. For the first time, you had a generation of adults that was born in an independent Armenia. It was also a time of relative prosperity (compared to the dark and cold days of the 1990s. We also saw a transfer of power between Kocharyan and Sargsyan as well as the events of March 1, 2008.
At present, Azatutyun is the second most popular news and media outlet in the Armenian news space. While it’s not officially part of the US government, it is funded by it and it’s essentially the Voice of America.
The USAID has from time to time allocated significant sums for the “support of Armenian Media”. A recent allocation in 2023 was for $17.5 million. That was basically the size of the entire advertising revenue for the industry back in 2016. NOTE: Based on your own past analysis, in 2016, the entire advertising market size for the first 5 months was about USD 8.3M (so roughly $20M for one year).
At a first glance some tendencies, such as predominantly foreign funded media, have not changed. We have Azatutyun, Factor TV, Civilnet, and others who enjoy a more stable source of cash than locally funded media.
But here’s a real life situation: Foreign funded journalists get a much higher salary. They also get to travel to foreign countries for work and other benefits. Thus, they are much more incentivized to represent the viewpoints of their sponsors better than lowered cal journalists.
Nowadays, Armenia has a relatively new phenomenon to deal with. Overtly fake news, without any attempt to hide behind a legitimate news company.
You have spoken about fake news in the past. But in the past few years it’s gotten infinitely worse, and with the technology that is coming online, the world we’re leaving to our next generation is likely to be an order of magnitude more confusing.
There are constant government attempts on freedom of press and journalism in Armenia. Sometimes there are bills in the parliament, sometimes they become law, or they cause a lot of consternation and then go away. The most notorious example is probably when the Pashinyan government criminalized “insults”, and then decriminalized it again. Yet, Armenia’s international media freedom rankings didn’t suffer much. At the same time, Pashinyan has said in the past:
_“I want to emphasize once again that in the history of the Third Republic, the press has never been freer than today”._
We’re all aware of the changes that Pashinyan brought to Armenia in 2018.
In 2018 you had predicted that Pashinyan first had to address a large number of domestic issues, and after that he would initiate a change in foreign policy direction:
We’re all aware of the loss of Artsakh last month, and the dispossession of the people of Artsakh from their homeland of millenia. Over 101,000 people were forcibly evicted in two week’s time at the end of September 2023.
Given the current situation in Armenia with the leadership of Artsakh, for example president Samvel Shahramanyan, speaker of parliament Davit Ishkanyan and others, and over 100 thousand refugees in difficult conditions:
Earlier this month a very significant crisis flared up in Israel, thousands are dead and injured without an end in sight at present. A greater and more immediate conflict is still playing out in Ukraine, which is a battleground for a war between Russia and NATO.
Importantly, both of these conflicts have repercussions all the way back to the South Caucasus and Armenia.
All right, that’s our show, we hope you found it useful. Please find us on Social Media and follow us everywhere you get your Armenian news, the links are in the show notes. Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. We’ll talk to you soon!
Aghasi Yenokyan is the former director of the Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azatutyun office in Yerevan. He is a research fellow at Columbia University in Post-Soviet Studies, and a former lecturer at Yerevan State University. He has studied political theories at the University of Chicago, public policy at Arizona State University. He is a graduate from Yerevan State University’s Physics Department, and has also earned an MBA from the American University of Armenia.
Asbed is founder of the Armenian News Network Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.