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Armenia: Peace Corps Volunteer Blogs

While the number of blogs on or based in the South Caucasus is often put in the tens of thousands, the actual number of bloggers is significantly lower. Moreover, the vast majority based on the ground are usually situated in the capital cities of the three republics making up the region. Low Internet penetration standing at just 5.8 percent in Armenia, 12.7 percent in Azerbaijan, and 7.8 percent in Georgia as of 2007 makes the situation doubly worse.

It's not surprising, therefore, that most bloggers are part of a small and somewhat exclusive group of foreigners and locals working in the media or civil society and international organizations. Most are Yerevan-based and information from outside the capital is lacking as a result. However, in recent years the U.S. Peace Corps has allowed its volunteers to set up blogs to update friends and family back home.

That wasn't always the case, as the Unfocused Wanderer detailed on one of the first PCV blogs from Armenia in January 2006.

I apologize for not posting before, but the internet connection in Berd where I'm assigned to an NGO is very poor at its best. I've been somewhat concerned with the Peace Corps policy on posting information on the internet as well, but I've gotten over that lately. So, what I'm going to try and do is go chronologically from training until now until I can simply point my friends and family to this blog to keep everyone updated on what's going on here in Armenia.

Since then, PCV blogs have begun to offer a rare insight into life in the regions of the country. Mark in Armenia, for example, talks about the problem of giardia, “a nasty parasite that reproduces in our small intestine.”

[…] I have had a couple horrific days of stomach problem, but I haven’t been lucky enough to get giardia so far. One of my friends, a fellow A-16 (since we are the 16thgroup of volunteers to come to Armenia (‘A’), starting in 1992 till now, 16 years of volunteers helping Armenia), had giardia and he look deathly ill after having it for 2 days. His face was stark white and he looked like he was now only made up of 60% water, before he was a fairly big guy from Wisconsin. I think he is better now, but I’ve been told everyone gets giardia during their tour in Armenia.

Moore From The Source introduces its readers to “nightlife” in the country's second largest city of Gyumri.

[…] nightlife is not really something that I get on a regular basis. Really, unless I’m in Yerevan, there isn’t much of what we would call in the states a “nightlife”. But, that’s not to say that there aren’t exciting things that happen at night. So, I’ve decided to sketch out a few nocturnal events that have happened recently.

1. Wolves! In a daring effort to reclaim the land for nature’s original tenants, a pack of wolves deftly sneaked into the city of Gyumri under the cover of night’s darkness. The citizens of the city awoke to the terrified sounds of cattle being slaughtered and devoured by the hundreds. When morning dawned, a total of 300 head of cattle had had the likes of life removed from their bones, courtesy of countless encounters with the vengeful jaws of relentless wolves, who incidentally turned out to be fairly efficient at what they do. […] So that’s exciting.

The blogs also unintentionally introduce oversight and transparency into regional development projects as well as highlight some of the needs. A recent PCV who left Armenia this summer wrote about his project in Noyemberian late last year.

I haven’t mentioned much about the school and our handicap accessibility projects lately, as our work from the ramps is pretty much done. The biggest step, which the school director and I started discussing over a year ago, is renovating their bathroom and sewer system to make them accessible (and usable, really). Right now, students and teachers have to go to the bathroom outside, which is horrible in the winter and completely unsanitary, as there’s no place to wash up afterwards. And considering the whole facility is on a muddy slope, it redefines the word “inaccessible”.

Others, such as Staci in Armenia, simply detail daily life in the regions of the country.

It’s starting to get cold here and there is snow on the surrounding mountain tops. It won’t be long until it’s on the ground here. Everyone in the village keeps telling me how long and cold the winters are, when I tell them there’s snow where I live in the United States they seem to think I’ll survive here. The difference is the lack of central heating and heat in the buses and cars. The wind chill is also a factor here. On the bright side they make great quilts here that are filled with wool, not processed but actual clumps of sheep’s hair. They are really warm and even though the bedroom is cold sometimes, the blanket really keeps you warm. If nothing else I’ll just wrap myself in one of these all winter.

At times of political turmoil, however, it is often impossible to avoid commenting on the situation. During the recent post-election unrest in Armenia, for example, Kyle’s Journey in Armenia updated its readers back home.

With the country essentially on lock-down, Peace Corps has put us on high alert and is requiring us to stay at our sites until further notice. Outside of Yerevan (and Noyemberyan is no exception), things are functioning as normal, and we have not had any problems with civil unrest here or in our region at all. Schools and businesses are open, and we are going forward with life, albeit with a black cloud looming over the country. […]

[…] We will see in the next couple weeks, but until then life will remain tense and uncomfortable. It can only get a lot better, or a lot worse, from here. Hopefully this State of Emergency will do the former and at least keep people off the streets. It has, of course, disrupted some things in my life (for instance, my friend was supposed to come teach a class here this week, and my skiing trip was canceled) but I am safe and not worried about the situation getting worse here in Noyemberyan.

Interestingly, the blogger was later instructed by the Peace Corps to password protect the entry so that only those who requested access could read it. However, the password was revealed a few days later.

[…] Due to the delicate political situation in the country, and Peace Corps’ role as a non-politically affiliated organization, I was asked to password protect my last post about the situation in Yerevan, and any future posts about politics in the country. The password is, and always will be, my last name. […]

Blogs have also been used to discuss the activities and purpose of the Peace Corps in countries such as Armenia. An account of a rare visit from a local Armenian based in Yerevan to a PCV site in the north east of the country posted on my previous blog prompted much discussion and an opportunity for volunteers to counter any criticism leveled against them in the comments section of the post.

There are 80 of us all over Armenia. Americans who are not Armenian who speak decent Armenian and are here to simply help. I would like for people […] to come see the work that can be done. More importantly, the work we are doing is not about resources but about change. It is about throwing off the blanket of Soviet era thinking and being cheerleaders to help our communities improve themselves. […] Resources, although nice, are not required for change and improvement. Hard work, community and a vision for a brighter future is all that is needed to improve rural Armenia.

Come one, come all. Find a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural area of Armenia and see the country as you would have never experienced it other wise regardless of your ethnic heritage.

And, as a sign that blogs are now being taken seriously by the Peace Corp itself, posts from many of these blogs are handily available from one source — A PCV Wiki at http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/journal/. There is also a list of past and present PCV blogs from Armenia at http://www.peacecorpsjournals.com/am.html.

12 comments

  • […] The full post is available on Global Voices Online. […]

  • Sometimes less news is best. :)

  • Rachete, With all major development in the center of the capital, Yerevan, (usually disproportionately to reported tax collection and average incomes) and with much work needing to be done in the regions which are emptying, I have to ask… when?

  • […] according to the Peace Corps Wiki, over 190 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Azerbaijan and as was the case in Armenia, a number set up blogs from the beginning of 2006. Operating outside the capital, Baku, the blogs […]

  • […] recently the most active in terms of blogs. Although 583 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have been stationed in Armenia since 1992, as opposed to 255 in Georgia and 195 in Azerbaijan since 2002, blogging has been more […]

  • Onnik jan, I can’t even get a ‘dominicinarmenia.blogspot.com’ shoutout in your article?! I thought you liked my stuff? What’s going on here? Amote kezi.

    -Dominic

  • Dominic, I hope this is a joke. In an entry I can’t make reference to every single blog out there. Besides, what I’m doing is drawing attention to the fact that PCVs are blogging. If people are interested, I’ve linked at the end of the post to a page which lists most of the PCV blogs including yours.

    Consider it omitted because of space, ok? You certainly shouldn’t consider it as an omission because I don’t like it. Besides, you finished your service in Armenia in August and I wanted to focus on current blogs from PCVs still in the country so people can follow their entries.

  • DSW

    The problems with PCVEs blogging seem to be related to this bill:

    http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-s732/text

    PCVEs are allowed to write blogs for any reason.

    The problems happen when local politics are involved, but that is part of the writing. The causcus and ‘Stans’ had a very prolific blogger that advocated the overthrow of governments during the ‘rose revolutions.’ So, some people are sensitive about ‘throwing off the blanket of Soviet era thinking.’ This, combined with the history of PC, made problems with the host countries. The blogger was not told to stop blogging, but didn’t get a job with USAID or anther agency. He was hired by PC.

  • DSW, thanks for the link and it seems to back up what I heard from PCVs here in Armenia:

    SEC. 306. PROTECTING RIGHTS OF PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS.

    […]

    (c) Right To Publish Without Prior Approval-

    […]

    (2) EXCEPTION RELATED TO COUNTRY-SPECIFIC MATERIAL-

    (A) APPROVAL REQUIREMENT- A Peace Corps volunteer shall be required to submit to a Country Director for review and prior approval any stories, articles, or other material that the volunteer intends to publish that relate specifically to the Peace Corps program operating in the country where the volunteer is serving or to policies or actions by officials of the government of such country.

    In 2006 I remember that PCVs had to have permission to write online. Last year, I remember that PCV blogs were monitored internally, which makes sense.

    Anyway, it appears as though the PC has become flexible and open in the South Caucasus and now all that’s required is some kind of disclaimer.

    In my opinion, this is important because there are very few bloggers based outside of the capital living in the regions. Offhand, apart from PCVs, I can’t think of any that write anything substantial.

    Even in terms of the media, there’s precious little information coming from outside the capital and what is there is usually politicized and funded. It’s not the same as a real account.

    I also think that being based there, living in rural communities, PCVs have the added benefit of seeing life as it is in the capital when they come down every so often and are able to compare it with the situation in the rest of the country.

  • Onnik, Of course the comment was in good humor. I’m still working on getting my tone across in blog comments. Not too good at it yet. Keep up the good work.

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