New Armenian Platform — in English

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Media in our country mainly operates for the local market; that is, for local Armenians familiar with the Armenia context. And though the newsfeed is translated in other languages, in many cases the quality of the translated pieces is not great, and the target audience, vague.

Ultimately, audiences inside and outside the country have different insights, and often the mechanical translation doesn’t help those outside Armenia understand the nuances of a situation. Usually, when the emphasis is on a local audience, the issue of translating the content in other languages becomes secondary, more so an advantage over optics, and not a much-needed bridge. 

The site ArmeniaNow.com, which shut down last year, in a sense was this bridge — for those searching for impartial but not official information about Armenia.

The scarcity of English-language pieces in some cases is offset by active online users proficient in English, who try on both blogs and social media to make Armenia’s voice heard in the world and ensure information circulates in international media.

One of these people is American University of Armenia (AUA) lecturer Maria Titizian, upon whose initiative the online magazine EVN Report was created recently. The magazine will publish pieces exclusively in English and exclusively about Armenia and Artsakh.

The idea for creating this platform emerged during the days of the April War, when the world’s attention was on Armenia, and there was a noticeable lack of information.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was silent, and the minister was not in Armenia. The only source was the defense ministry spokesperson, who was disseminating official news releases — and in Facebook, at that. There were official statements several times a day, which I translated and shared on social media, since I saw that there just wasn’t news in English,” says Titizian.

During those days, the number of her followers on Facebook and Twitter grew by several thousand. “Many wrote that they understand what’s happening in Armenia and Artsakh by going to my page or reading my blog. Even more so, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh was publishing my translations on its official website.”

As a result, many international media, BBC, Al Jazeera, and so on, who were searching for information sources, contacted informed and English-speaking online users.

“The same thing happened in the case of the Sasna Dzrer [Daredevils of Sassoun]. Again I began to share information on Twitter, Facebook; I was even forced to tell the Al Jazeera journalist that she couldn’t call me at night and ask for comments. It became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to fill the information gap this way, and we needed an English-language platform. Otherwise, it turned out that we weren’t speaking with the world, but beating our chests, we communicate only with each other,” says Titizian, who has been living in Armenia for 16 years and, she says, is here for the long haul, burning all the bridges and accepting that this is her place.

Contributors and Finances

EVNReport.com is the brainchild of several supporters, has a board of directors, two main employees, and various contributors. It will operate in the format of an online magazine, publishing five to six pieces weekly on various topics of public interest.

“We don’t have the means to get news to people every day, like a daily paper. To tell you the truth, there’s no need for that. What we’re missing more are analyses written in English, more in-depth articles and discussions, which will help readers understand the contradictory situation [here]. In Armenia, it seems there are no ‘middle colors’: everything is either black or white. We figured that perhaps measured pieces written in English will raise the level of discourse,” says Titizian, who is the chief editor of the platform.

She places importance on not only the issue of language, but also culture and the structure of pieces. And in covering any current topic, they are going to try not to be extreme.

“We must also show that there’s good too, while at the same time being free of rose-colored glasses and not present life as, say, the Public Television of Armenia does. I’ve always behaved this way, and some thought it was a lack of position. There must be a balance. If we write only about the bad things, we’ll deprive people outside the country of the glimmer of hope. Meanwhile, people return to Armenia because they see possibilities here. And the possibility of building, first of all.”

Titizian tries to encourage her friends, friends of friends, and AUA lecturers to write. The goal is to create both a good business model and a useful platform. 

In general, all media platforms have two main issues: contributors and finances.

The financial issue of this newly created platform is still undetermined. “It’s somewhat funny, but I told the contributors that their first pieces have to be unpaid. If they want, also the second, the third, the fifth… I audaciously tried to take the first steps this way. And I’m very happy and grateful that no contributor has refused us to date. Of course, we hope that we will be able to pay contributors living in Armenia a honorarium that’s a little bit higher than market price,” says Titizian.

EVN Report didn’t want to go the crowdfunding route, though, in Titizian’s opinion, if during the Four-Day April War every user seeking English-language news paid a meager sum, they would have a large financial reserve now.

The platform’s board of directors decided that they should initially enter the market modestly, and only then think about expanding and fundraising. The platform now operates with the financial assistance of board members, then they’ll urge the diaspora to invest.

Titizian regrets that the culture of subscription is not popular among Armenia’s media, though it’s the best but also most difficult way to communicate with the audience.

“The day the site launched, there was news that Artur Sargsyan [the Bread Bringer] had died. We thought, we hesitated, about what to do. And Arto Vaun very quickly wrote a piece, which received many views. That is, we showed that we’re entering the field, understanding very well what’s happening around us and we’re ready to respond quickly,” says Titizian.

And she reminds us that we’re in a region today that can catch fire at any moment, and the world’s attention will be directed towards us. And it’s important that Armenia’s perspective on contradictory reality be heard in the world.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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