Bloggers’ perceptions of Armenian exchange rates

As I was checking the blogs that I regularly follow this morning, I immediately noticed that both the Armenian blogs I follow had posted items about the sudden sharp increase in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Armenian dram. As of today, 1 USD is now worth 380 AMD, up 20% from yesterday’s exchange rate of 1 USD/308 AMD. The immediate effects of this are high levels of inflation in Armenia.

The post on The Armenian Observer blog pretty much stuck to the facts and made reasonable speculations about what this would mean for Armenians in the future, along with a not terribly excessive tone of righteous indignation.

The post on The Yerevan Journal blog, on the other hand took the opportunity to espouse a conspiracy theory about the timing of the exchange rate change. On March 1, there was a huge rally in Yerevan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of violent protests in the capital in which several citizens died. The blogger reported the street opinion that “they” had intentionally waited until after the rally to change the exchange rate in order to avoid trouble from angry citizens. Who “they” are and what their motives are, besides the ambiguous “to make a killing” is not explained.

The two different responses to what is obviously a very important event in the lives of ordinary Armenians got me thinking about the relative freedom the internet provides to bloggers, for better and for worse. In countries like Armenia, where censorship is a significant obstacle to media freedom, the internet allows bloggers the opportunity to report stories and perspectives that might not otherwise be hear. They also allow any angry citizen with a conspiracy theory to publish his thoughts to the world. Even this may not be entirely negative, though. As is the case with The Yerevan Journal, there probably are at least a fair number of Armenians who feel like the exchange rate increase was some kind of conspiracy. The validity of the argument itself isn’t as important as the fact that it has at least some credence amongst Armenians.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The status of Kurdish in Turkey

Recently, a Turkish member of parliament, Ahmet Turk, caused a huge controversy by speaking a few words of Kurdish during a parliamentary session to celebrate “International Mother Tongue Day”. It is illegal in Turkey to speak any language other than Turkish in an official governmental capacity, so Turks actions were illegal. Despite the obvious problems with freedom of expression in this issue, the news is not all bad.

In 1994, several MPs were arrested for attempting to take their oaths of office in Kurdish. By contrast, it appears that no disciplinary action will be taken against Turk. So while the law banning other languages is still on the books, at least enforcement is not as stringent as it once was. The government TV station airing the session of parliament was immediately cut, though, as soon as Turk started speaking Kurdish. While the government is perhaps no longer as willing to arrest people right and left in order to silence them, it still has a vested interest in attempting to control the message its citizens hear. In this case, language itself is the message, and according to the government the only language that “real” Turks speak is Turkish.

This is an interesting take on the topic by a Turkish blogger. He is sympathetic to the plight of Turkish Kurds, but also wary of any elements of Kurdish nationalism.

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 12:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lessons from “Control Room”

After watching the documentary “Control Room” I was dismayed at the complete lack of respect CentCom (and by extension the United States government in general) gave to the media with regards to the Iraq war. CentCom clearly appreciated that the media was a powerful tool that could be manipulated for propaganda purposes, but apparently failed to understand how it could also be used to reach out to the Arab community. American news networks were given the best facilities and access to information. Yet it wasn’t American support that was essential to the success of the U.S. in the Iraq war, and in the Arab region in general. What the U.S. needed was the support of the Arab public. The best way to gain that support certainly isn’t by dismissing al Jazeera, the most popular Arab news source, as nothing more than propaganda an unworthy of the U.S.’s attention.

Throughout the documentary, al Jazeera is consistently portrayed as fair-minded and open to analyzing all sides of an issue (although this likely reflects some degree of bias on the part of the producers of “Control Room” since some amount of bias is inevitable). If CentCom was willing to respect al Jazeera as a legitimate news outlet, the network could have been incredibly effective at portraying the American viewpoint. The press officer in the movie, Lt. Rushing, serves as an excellent example of the inattention and even blatant disrespect given al Jazeera in particular and the Arab media in general. Rushing was the most junior press officer at CentCom with absolutely no background in the Middle East, but was assigned to al Jazeera because he seemed to get along with some of the reporters. It seems obvious to me that more thought and strategy should have been given to attempting to influence public opinion than simply haphazardly assigning unqualified officers to the most important news network in the region.

That being said, I believe that people like Lt. Rushing are perhaps the military’s best hope of improving its image in the Middle East. Although he had no background or training in the region, Rushing displayed a genuine interest and curiosity in the Arab people, culture, and history. He was able to develop a positive rapport with the al Jazeera reporters and see them as reasonable people capable of expressing and listening to rational opinions. In turn, the reporters were able to put a human face on U.S. policy, even when they disagreed with it. Rushing’s curiosity of and respect for the region ultimately serves U.S. interests. Instead of insultingly dismissing Rushing’s suggestion to call on an al Jazeera reporter first at a press conference as a sign of respect, General Franks would have done well to listen to him. Such a simple measure would have cost Franks nothing and been a step towards developing a positive rapport. It appears the military could use more soldiers as open-minded as Lt. Rushing.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish-Armenian communication in the blogosphere

This is an interesting post by a Turkish blogger written as an open letter to the global Armenian community. The comments are where things get really fascinating, as there are many in-depth and insightful comments by both Turks and Armenians.

I’ve been searching for evidence of interaction between Turks and Armenians on the internet (preferably interaction that goes beyond angry rants) and have had a tough time fining anything. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many Turkish bloggers have temporarily stopped posting as a form of protest against an increased crackdown on blogs by the Turkish government, so this post is especially encouraging.

The post itself as well as the comments also bring up some interesting notions of identity, especially with regards to nationalism. Turkish and Armenian narratives are discussed, along with how the Armenian genocide fits into both these narratives in vastly different ways. One of the reasons it is so difficult for Turkey and Armenia (as well as individual citizens of those countries) to reconcile is that each country has very distinct and established narratives about what happened in 1915, and every citizen is indoctrinated into his country’s respective narrative from birth. The accuracy of the narrative is not what’s important, but rather the fact that the narrative is so firmly entrenched in notions of national identity.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Web Censorship Is So Bad in Turkey That Blogs Are Shutting Themselves Down In Protest

Web Censorship Is So Bad in Turkey That Blogs Are Shutting Themselves Down In Protest

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Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 3:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Cyberspace as a means of equality?

Today in class we had a discussion about whether or not cyberspace was inherently liberating. At one point, someone mentioned that the internet gives the ability for everyone to be equal, as long as they learn English. That’s a pretty huge assumption, though. Just making that statement implies that there is something inherently superior about the English language (and by the same measure, something inferior about other languages). I’m reminded of a recent discussion in my French class where we talked about the difficulties involved in finding information online in foreign languages, since approximately 90% of the information on the internet is in English and English has become the lingua franca of the web. It seems pretty apparent to me that it is an incredible disadvantage to be a non-native speaker of English when dealing with cyberspace.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Art is what you can get away with.”

We briefly discussed this McLuhan quote in class on Thursday, and I just wanted to expand on it a little. I took an introductory art history class last semester, and the professor referenced this quote (without attributing it to McLuhan) as part of a discussion about the definition of art. It’s something that has intrigued me ever since and is closely related to concepts of the public sphere.

When people think about art, they usually consider it to be something that has cultural significance or aesthetic beauty, takes skill to create, something that makes a statement, tells a story, or teaches us something about ourselves, or even just something that has monetary value. More often, it’s some combination of these factors. The difficulty is that it is almost impossible to gain any kind of consensus on these factors.

A degree of talent or skill above and beyond that possessed by ordinary humans is often used as tool to evaluate whether or not something is art. The works of Michelangelo are as universally acknowledged as anything can ever be as great art. He was almost incomparably gifted. I am able to look at one of his sculptures and marvel at how a human being was able to create such a work. Yet the works of Duchamp are also widely held (although certainly not without debate) to be art. Duchamp is the guy who wrote “Mutt” on a urinal and called it art. Many people look at such works and think “I could have done that, so it can’t be art.” Yet the “right” people think that is art and museums are willing to pay millions of dollars for a Duchamp. Thus there is no hard and fast definition of art. If enough people, or even just a few “important” people consider something worthy of the title of art then it is art. The art world then, is one area where concepts of the public sphere are incredibly important. Millions of dollars and a great deal of prestige depend on whose opinions are heard and whose opinions are considered important.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Basic Turkey/Armenia background

This article provides a very brief overview of the historical and current tensions between Turkey and Armenia (

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Talks between Turkey and Armenia could yield a roadmap for relations between the two countries if Yerevan shows a ‘sincere’ attitude, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey and Armenia have no formal diplomatic relations but officials from the two sides have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations as a result of recent tentative discussions between the two sides.

“If Armenia displays a sincere behaviour in the low-level work, after our talks last night, today’s talks may somehow set out a roadmap,” Erdogan said in Davos in comments to reporters broadcast on Turkish television channels.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has held talks at the World Economic Forum with his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian and Erdogan was set to hold talks with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan on Thursday evening.

Relations between the two countries have been haunted by the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One, which ex-Soviet Armenia says amounted to genocide. Ankara denies there was genocide.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Armenia should show the necessary understanding,” Erdogan said.

“On the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, we can never leave Azerbaijan on its own. Our subject is linked to Azerbaijan,” he added.

For full coverage, blogs and TV from Davos go to (Writing by Daren Butler)

I’ve done some extremely preliminary research about the extent to which ordinary Turks and Armenians communicate using new media. I’ve not yet found much evidence of communication between bloggers or between commenters on blogs, but there is a degree of communication amongst Facebook users. There is a Facebook group called “Peace For Armenia and Turkey” that currently has about 1,400 members and some fairly lively discussion boards. Group members appear to be mostly Turks and Armenians, or members of those countries’ diasporas. Of course, there is another group called “Recognize Armenia as the Liar” with about 1,100 members. Memers are mostly Turkish or of Turkish descent, and all are dedicated to denying that the Armenian genocide occurred. On the other side is a group called simply “Armenia” (about 2,700 members) that is dedicated to getting offical recognition of the genocide.

I definitely plan on doing more research and following more blogs, so hopefully I’ll be able to find more evidence of communication and dialogue between Turks and Armenians who use the relative freedom of the internet as a tool for discussion. Although I have no evidence to back this up, I would imagine that the internet would be incredibly useful, especially given the restrictions on ordinary media in both countries.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish and Armenian blogs

I’m tentatively thinking about following bloggers in both Turkey and Armenia. The two countries have, to say the least, an antagonistic history I think it will be interesting to see the political perspectives of bloggers living in Turkey vs. bloggers living in Armenia. The two blogs I am following for the moment (although I hope to add more) are Yerevan Journal and Turkish Diary. Despite the two countries’ differences, they face similar obstacles to press freedom
For example, in Turkey “insulting Turkishness” is a serious but vaguely defined crime, and is often used to punish those who acknowledge the Armenian genocide. However, intimidation is also a problem in Armenia and comes from both the government and local thugs. The author of Yerevan Journal refers to a “certain oligarch” who frequently uses threats and intimidation. It is telling that even though this man’s identity is probably widely known to anyone living in Yerevan, the blogger will not name him.
I have initially gravitated towards this subject because I’ve lived my whole life in Fresno, CA which has a large Armenian community. There is actually a part of downtown referred to as “Armenia Town” and you can minor in Armenian studies at Fresno State. William Saroyan (the Armenian-American author and playwright) is a local hero with tons of things named after him. Basically, I’ve always been exposed to Armenian culture and viewpoints, but never to Turkish ones. So, I’d like to educate myself about both countries by researching the viewpoints of ordinary bloggers.

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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Initial Thoughts

Having never studied the Middle East before, I found a lot of the information in Lynch somewhat surprising. I’m afraid I always had the typical American perception of al-Jazeera as extremist hate media, so it was interesting to see the wide range of opinion broadcast on the different talk shows. Also interesting was the development and progression of Arab public opinion. For example, general Arab views on Saddam Hussein and American sanctions changed over time based on foreign policy developments and emerging information about mass graves and other atrocities. I think that it is often tempting to fall into the stereotype of viewing Arab public opinion as irrationally opposed to anything the West does, so Lynch’s insights as to the reasons for popular Arab views was helpful.

I’m entering this class with more of an interest in media in general than the Middle East in particular, so I’m not sure yet which geographical areas I’d like to focus on. However, I do know that I’d like to learn more about obstacles to press freedom, including outright censorship as well as more subtle means, like the intimidation of journalists.

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment