With uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, the extra-parliamentary opposition in Armenia is now seeking to replicate events in the former Soviet republic, and not least because 1 March 2011 will mark the 3rd anniversary of post-presidential election clashes which left 10 people dead. However, although there has been some coverage in the local media, there has been next to none outside of the country.
In part, some believe, this has been because few expect them to succeed. While Azerbaijan has made the ‘watch list’ of several foreign media outlets, Armenia and especially Georgia have not. Footprints offers its opinion as to why.
The Egyptians did it. They dispelled a regime that they knew to be oppressive and corrupt, which limited their freedom of expression and movement and held them hostage to failed opportunity and poverty. […] Through social networking they got the message out and people took to the streets, refusing to relent until their demands were met. Mission accomplished.
But here in Armenia, chronic whining reigns society. People here, young and old alike, are so obsessed with the idea of “the country’s not a country” that they see no other way out of the similar problems that Egyptians dealt with for over 30 years. […] And not to discount the Armenians’ suffering, but Egyptians seemed to have suffered far worse during their decades of tyrannical repression and “emergency” rule. […]
I’ve had a few conversations with people about the events in Egypt, and they recognize the need to do the same here. They realize the missed opportunity they had in March 2008. But they also know that no one’s ready to try again. The youth, as a dynamic source of potential, are inactive. The opposition is as fragmented as it ever was. There’s no unity amongst the Armenian people here, and until everyone gets on the same page to work for the common goal, the country, in their eyes, will remain not a country. That shouldn’t be an option.
The Armenian Observer appears to be one of those discontent with the situation in Armenia, but uninterested in the extra-parliamentary opposition's renewed attempt to come to power. The blog comments on the speech made by its leader, former president Levon Ter-Petrossian, at a rally staged a week ago in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. Reuters and AFP estimated attendance at between 5-7,000 people while the local media put it at 10,000.
“The plight of our people is no better than the plight of the peoples of those countries, and Armenia’s regime is no less dictatorial and hated than the regimes in those countries,” opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s first President told the crowd before it marched through downtown Yerevan.
However, I don’t think the crowd, which wasn’t there during HAK’s previous rally, came because they now suddenly started to trust the opposition force more. The opposition movement hasn’t done anything to earn that trust over the past couple of years.
Such a rally, including one scheduled to mark the 1 March anniversary, would have happened regardless of Egypt and Tunisia. However, some analysts believe, events in the Arab world at least proved encouraging. This even extends to examining the potential use of Facebook and Twitter to enact regime change.
However, online activity remains incredibly low for now at least, with only 324 people both inside and outside of Armenia joining an unofficial Facebook page, Armenian revolution of reform : March 1, 2011, for the next major demonstration at time of writing. The Armenian Observer comments on the situation.
Zurabian, who isn’t even registered in Facebook, told PanARMENIAN.Net reporter, that monitoring of the world’s largest social network carried out by the opposition force has revealed “great support” for the HAK among the population of Armenia. He than went on to conclude, that HAK supporters are educated people, who “have access to Internet technologies and social networks.”
Currently there are 123,000 users registered from Armenia, which is something like 4% penetration in total population terms. So it is sheer utopianism to claim, as Zurabian did in his interview with PanArmenian.net, that social networks “provide great opportunities to overcome information blockade imposed by the Armenian authorities via total control of television.”
Few, however, take such claims regarding online support seriously, but if the situation with Facebook is bad, it is even worse on Twitter, although @hpNYR, an opposition supporter in the United States, has made an incredible effort to popularize the use of both Facebook and Twitter, including attempts to encourage use of a #1mar hashtag, almost single-handedly.
Nevertheless, some believe, it might be too little too late.
Even so, YouTube is at least being used by the pro-opposition A1 Plus, formerly a television station controversially forced off the air less than a year before the bitterly disputed presidential election in 2003. A video uploaded today, for example, shows a minor confrontation between police and opposition youth activists off Yerevan's Republic Square.
Whatever happens in Armenia next week, for now at least it appears that social networks will not have played a significant role. Of course, some like Armenian student and Global Voices author Yelena Osipova argue that they shouldn't necessarily always be viewed as a total solution anyway.
Meanwhile, as the extra-parliamentary opposition in Armenia prepares for 1 March, activists in neighboring Azerbaijan are looking to the 11th.