For around two weeks, while Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian was hunger-striking in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, politicized Armenian residents of the virtual space were waging battles against one another. These “military operations,” in the first place, was unprecedented in terms of the conflicting parties: it was perhaps the first time that people, who are mainly united in their stance against the authorities, waged such an intense struggle against each other. The two-week virtual war ended (though we’re not that sure that we can speak of its final end) with more of a split in the opposition arena than there’s ever been in recent years.
The war started when at the Mar. 17 rally, Armenian National Congress (HAK) leader Levon Ter-Petrossian didn’t approach Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian, who was on a hunger strike in Liberty Square since Mar. 15, though the latter and his supporters greeted the entrance of HAK rally participants into Liberty Square by standing up and chanting “unity.”
Note that until then too, the HAK-supporting press either referred to the hunger strike in reports mixed with mockery (see http://www.chi.am, Mar. 16) or very briefly recorded the actual fact (of the hunger strike), without addressing the arguments in the approximately 40 minutes’ speech which prior to announcing the hunger strike, Raffi Hovannisian had explained.
But these were simply roses compared to all that which took place after what happened on Mar. 17, which were followed by a number of references on blogs by well-known publicists. To paint the picture, let’s offer simply a few references of these and the personal attacks that followed in those responses that crossed the line.
Publicist Tigran Paskevichyan wrote in his blog: “Let Raffi Hovannisian have accepted the numerous proposals to unite and felt free to make use of the right to receive the attention of the crowd gathered around HAK.” Publicist Marine Petrosyan responded to him, “Tigran, basically you’ve already died and I hadn’t known. May your soul rest in peace,” while (HAK activist) Vardge Gaspari wrote, “Regretfully, I smell Article 37” (the “notion of complicity” in the RA Criminal Code).
Aramazd Ghalamkaryan, in his blog, wrote: “Levon couldn’t approach Raffi since that would mean that the [Armenian National] Congress was asking the Heritage Party to join them. Such a request hasn’t been made to a [political] force and I hope it won’t be. But the rally that left Raffi out was itself an invitation and if Raffi was a little less ambitious and a little less in love with himself and a little bit more politically farsighted, he himself would get up on the stage, would approach Ter-Petrossian and would say that he wants to announce on the mic that he and his party are joining the [ranks of the] Armenian National Congress. He would be given the opportunity to do this, he would do it, during counted minutes, counted seconds, he would go from being a political outlaw to a hero, a politician who can rise above his personality and his career would get its second breath. Moreover, tomorrow he’d have the chance of becoming, for example, the diaspora minister.” Blogger ovanitas responded to Ghalamkaryan’s blog post like this: “It was like a Haylur reportage during pre-election period.”
The face-offs very quickly moved from blogs to social networking sites. It’s impossible to depict the full picture of approximately two weeks’ worth of debates on Facebook. But I think the following dialogue is very characteristic. On Mar. 21, sharing the news that police had destroyed the tarp canopy planned for Raffi Hovannisian, Collaboration for Democracy Center NGO Program Director Arthur Avtandilyan wrote: “I hope it’s as a result of the ‘freshness’ of the news that I haven’t come across any condemning comments by HAK members… at least in the context of ‘they’ve violated the rights of a RA citizen’.” However, this was followed by a similar response by Arthur Grigoryan: “What’s there to condemn? Haven’t they yet stolen his pacifier?” — implying that Hovannisian was engaging in childhood games.
But the high point was the fight on Marine Petrosyan’s Facebook page between analysts Hrant Ter-Abrahamyan and Andranik Tevanyan that began on Mar. 22. What it was worth to just follow the “debating” dialogue: “Promise that if we meet by chance, you won’t [be afraid and go hide in a corner].” “My, you turned out to be quite the sly, nitpicking [idiot].”
All this was followed by a new stage, when the conflicting parties began to remove each other from their respective Facebook friends’ lists, or at most, they were no longer debating with each other. The dialogues took place exclusively among those who adhere to the same ideology. One side mocked and ridiculed Raffi Hovannisian, calling him “full of hot air,” a “clown,” and just about everything under the sun, while the other side viewed this attitude toward the hunger-striker within the context of intolerance of those who haven’t joined HAK — calling them “sectarians” and “Jesuits.”
The responses to the virtual war, though in somewhat subdued form, also made it to the traditional press and in particular, in local daily Haykakan Jamanak (“Armenian Times”) where the same participants in the “battle” — Hrant Ter-Abrahamyan, Liz Jagharyan, Tigran Paskevichyan — were by now responding in print to everything that was online.
Note, during the entire time, there were calls for ceasefire, even by HAK supporters. Blogger Isabella Sargsyan had written, “Basically, now, instead of fighting the ‘Serzhiks’ [referring to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan], we’re fighting each other? What’s the point?” Karapet Rubinyan proposed, “An admonishment to all supporters should come from the HAK office to cease all attacks against Raffi and the Heritage Party. Propose the same to the Heritage Party.” Jirair Sefilian, in a press conference, urged to put an end to the civil war in Facebook: “Let’s close that page; let’s try to debate in a civilized way, whether that be on Facebook or in Liberty Square. These days, since we see that the doors of Liberty Square are open, let’s move the debate from the virtual world of Facebook to the real world.” “Dear Armenians, I urge and ask [you] to close the subject of Raffi. The discussions are becoming a race on personal attacks. Raffi ended his hunger strike: let’s end too,” government expert Harutyun Mesropyan urged on Facebook.
But the virtual war didn’t end after that either. Let’s cite just one example: among the reasons for ending the hunger strike, along with numerous citizens’ persuasions and doctors’ cautions, the Heritage Party leader also noted the wish to participate in his daughter’s 18th birthday. “Good that he’s not marking his grandma’s 100th birthday,” one HAK supporter immediately retorted on Facebook.
The virtual battles brought out in Yerevan the rather deep and perhaps insurmountable differences of practice and approaches among the opposition ranks. And the most importantly, they once again showed the complete absence of the culture of debate in Armenia’s political and journalistic circles.
In order not to end on a sad note, let’s reference a joke which journalist Arthur Khemchyan was reminded of in connection to these debates: “Man and wife fight one hour, two hours… at the end, the wife says, ‘Fine, let’s not fight, let’s say that we’re both at fault… especially you’.”
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.