Journalist, works for "A1+" website.
There's a type of congregation that is formed through the press and can be referred to as a news media congregation. This mass of people are up-to-date on the latest developments, without losing contact with the news. Such people adjust their revolutionary passions and priorities according to the press — more specifically, according to online news media. This also explains the scarce attendance at the rallies of opposition presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian.
A great many news websites report on Hovannisian's every step. The period following this year's presidential election, 85–90 thousand people daily were watching the live stream broadcasts of A1+, RFE/RL's Armenian service, and CivilNet.
We didn't have such live stream broadcasts in 2003 and 2008. The Armenian press at the time wasn't a "place for appointments," but it did make appointments with the protesting bunch, reporting, for example, that "the decisive opposition rally will take place on April 11."
After 2008, Haykakan Zhamanak ("Armenian Times") would often write, citing various experts: "If 50,000 people gather in Liberty Square, revolution is inevitable." Outspoken opposition figure Nikol Pashinyan also made such a desperate attempt during this year's rallies. During one of Hovannisian's scarcely populated rallies, he said that if 500,000 people gather at Liberty Square on April 9, there will be a change of goverment. But the problem is that Armenian news websites today cover protest rallies so well that people don't need to go to the square.
There are simply too many sites, covering a broad range of tastes. They've become virtual squares where people congregate. Along with a mass of people, the Internet has become a "crowd" of websites. Newspaper readers and news website visitors are becoming passive revolutionaries; everyone wants to be informed on what's happening in the public square in their "active" absence. Information becomes the square where all activity occurs.
At first glance, it seems that post-election news coverage is a natural expression of press freedom — Asparez Journalists' Club's online broadcasts made it impossible to manipulate election results in the province of Shirak. No one needs to get to the province of Syunik to see how Hovannisian gathers Syunik residents under "the flag of struggle." But the "decisive rallies" in Yerevan always happen under the "active" display of passive revolution — people are mere observers and in the square are only the elderly, that is, people who haven't quite mastered the Internet, and Hovannisian's supporters, which actually aren't that many.
The other thing that ignites the virtual struggle is, of course, Facebook and, to a certain extent, the comments on YouTube, which in and of themselves are "places of appointments" for the clash of passions and any and all opinions. And so, public squares stop being springboards for revolutions or even where exchanges of information occur. The masses realize their political claims in a space where they need not look into anyone's eyes and thus don't know the "faces" of those gathered.
In other words, to feel the density of supporters, to share their enthusiasm with others, they have no other sphere other than leaving comments on social networking sites and elsewhere. The press and the Internet leave the public square out of the domain where everyone had a tangible presence; a heart whose work was felt; a hand that could hold; and a leader, who could recharge them at every stage of the struggle.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.