No Offense: On Legitimacy of Power in Armenia’s Media

Vahram Martirosyan

Writer, screenwriter

Armenia is one of those unique countries where not all news outlets refer to the head of state as the President of the Republic of Armenia.

Instead of “RA1 President Serzh Sargsyan” the opposition media use the terms “the person occupying the RA president position”, “Serzhik Sargsyan”, or simply “Serzh Sargsyan”. It is assumed that readers should recognize this as a sign of rejecting the official results of the 2013, and before that the 2008 presidential elections.

The daily Haykakan Zhamanak, for example, writes [AM]: “Why, after his colorful speech on Serzhik Sargsyan’s visits to Monte Carlo, has Viktor Dallakyan become a Republican?”

“Serzhik Sargsyan” is often seen also on iLur.am, which represents the views of opposition party Armenian National Congress (HAK). Here are two editorial headlines: “Serzhik Sargsyan’s Show and His Puppets” [AM] and “What Do You Want From Serzhik Sargsyan? ‘He’s a Child, Not Bothering Anyone, Eating Yogurt’” [AM]. 

It’s interesting that the form of address “Serzhik Sargsyan” was used and became a topic of discussion at the National Assembly, which, naturally, the media covered. In the article “Serzhik Sargsyan or Serzh Sargsyan?” [AM] Newsbook.am explains that opposition figures use the name in his passport, meanwhile Sargsyan’s team members insist that his passport no longer reads “Serzhik” but “Serzh”. 

Lragir.am uses neither “RA President Serzh Sargsyan” nor “Serzhik Sargsyan”; occurring more often is the relatively neutral “Serzh Sargsyan,” but the expression “the person occupying the president position” likewise is seen on the site [AM]: “This is probably a rare case in Armenia, when someone is nominated for a high-ranking position, and that the person occupying the president position nominates [him], while this person refuses.”

From time to time, Serzh Sargsyan merely occupies the position of the president also in Zhamanak [AM]: “The underground parking lot at Freedom Square opened yesterday. A regular occurrence in any normal country, which in the Republic of Armenia is turned into an event, in which the person occupying the position of the country’s president participates” (published in 2010); in Zhoghovurd [AM], “Serzh Sargsyan occupying the position of RA president gave only two press conferences”; and on Araratnews.am [AM], “But no one gave them such a comprehensive answer as the person occupying the position of the country’s president gave today.”

No less bizarre is when government representatives adopt the same practice when speaking about leaders of other countries: “It’s surprising and amusing when a state leader, even the Azerbaijan state leader, who is a Council of Europe member, a CIS member, who himself has the qualification of a diplomat, can permit himself a speech of such vocabulary,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, in conversation with Tert.am [AM], adding that the person occupying the position of president of Azerbaijan preaches fascism and racism. 

The situation is paradoxical because no news outlet refers to other high-ranking RA officials as “occupying the position” or to express a pronounced negative position [AM]: “Proof of the aforementioned is the interview in which the person occupying the position of the chair of the National Assembly Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs (Hovhannes Sahakyan) firmly insists several times…”

So Serzh Sargsyan is “occupying the position,” while the officials whom he appoints are the real prime minister and ministers? And if they too aren’t legitimate (since the president is not legitimate), what alternative do media outlets where this conviction prevails have — to refer to all other officials likewise as “occupying the position”?

This will make any news story on the ruling authorities lack seriousness. Though… seriousness and legitimacy should be acquired during elections so that such absurd situations can be avoided in the future. 

Vahram Martirosyan

1. In Armenian text, it is common to abbreviate “Republic of Armenia” to “RA”.

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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