The ratification processes of the Istanbul and Lanzarote conventions signed by the previous government became opportunities to label the new government. The conventions were presented as a threat to national identity, family values and children.
The Media Initiatives Center (MIC) conducted research in 2020 studying the three main topics on the Armenian agenda at the time: the coronavirus, the Artsakh issue and the Lanzarote Convention.
Media.am studied the content created by 3 websites, News.am, Tert.am, 168.am, within the framework of this research, in relation to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, to find out who misled the public and what did they emphasize? Using the same methodology, we studied the publications about the Istanbul Convention that were not included in the study on the same websites.
Don’t have time to read? Here are the highlights:
- Coverage of the Lanzarote Convention largely framed the convention as sexually perverting children. The process of its ratification was accompanied by misinformation. For example, rumors were circulating that books about orgasms were being distributed to children in Yerevan.
- Those who expressed their opinion on the Convention were both from the professional community and politicians. Among the latter were two former ministers who gave a positive assessment of this convention at the signing stage, but who opposed it at the ratification stage.
- The negative attitude towards the Lanzarote Convention was expressed in journalistic materials by journalists. This phenomenon was also observed in the case of the Istanbul Convention: The leaders of BlogNews.am and Politik.am websites held a press conference against the convention.
- Although the framing of the Lanzarote Convention was mainly based on local narratives, in the case of both the Lanzarote and the Istanbul Conventions, some Russian propaganda narratives reached Armenia. They were mainly part of the narratives regarding Soros and the color revolution.
- Both well-known political parties and people’s parties were active in opposing the Istanbul Convention. Its anti-national nature was discussed. Some brought up the issue of sexual minorities.
- The Convention was put in the context of the Constitutional amendments implying that as a result of those changes a Constitutional Court obedient to the authorities would be formed, and this convention would be ratified without hindrance and other problematic documents would be signed. Comments of various experts were not very different from one another.
Discussion of the Lanzarote Convention escalated in mid-May: What did the research reveal?
In the research “The Patterns of Disseminating Disinformation in the Armenian Online Media” in the period of May-June 2020, the publications of three media outlets with a large audience – News.am, Tert.am, 168.am – were studied.
78 articles on the Lanzarote Convention were found using the Rumors Monitoring tool. From the study of their content it became clear that the frameworks of the Convention are part of the Armenian media narratives, that is, their sources are not of foreign origin. Most of the publications – 39% – were copied from other sources, in 26% the author or source was not mentioned.
The majority of the articles reviewed were based on the opinion/comment of a third party and only 5% contained the analysis of a journalist or media outlet.
The convention has largely been framed as sexually perverting children. Moreover, this was the main message of 30% of the materials. In addition, there were reports of child abuse and homosexuality.
The Lanzarote Convention: What messages were provided on the platform and what messages did the media send?
If the media often described it as a “problematic convention,” then MP Gevorg Petrosyan called it a “perverted convention.”
The ratification process of the Convention was accompanied by misinformation. For example, rumors were circulating that books about orgasms were being distributed to children in Yerevan. Although the news was false, it was linked to the convention and it became a matter of political manipulation.
Although the ruling wing, from the deputies to the Prime Minister, clarified that the convention aims to protect children from sexual abuse, they were not enough. This was registered by the Human Rights Defender of Armenia Arman Tatoyan.
As for the coverage, only 23% of the materials on the convention were factually framed.
Having read 78 materials, we categorized them into three groups: positive, negative and neutral.
The approach of the journalist/editorial office was emphasized in some places in the 3 media outlets we observed.
This article by News.am expresses the journalist’s attitude. “․․․ What guarantee is there that materials with problematic content will not be introduced to schools and that NGOs advocating non-traditional sexual orientation known to the public will not enter schools under the guise of child sexual protection and ‘enlighten’ the children, making them involuntarily vulnerable…?”
Another article said, “Many experts believe that the convention could have the opposite effect.” It is not clear how the proportion was determined and what specialists are in question.
A 168.am journalist, without specifying who the speakers are, asked a question, “They say they will come from Europe to train local specialists so that relevant classes can be held. Which specialist should and can be trained and bring the information to the children normally during those extra lessons? Won’t there be a staffing problem?”
Vahe Haykuni, one of the columnists of the website, insisted in the article “2 years of the color coup,” “In every way, Pashinyan and his velvet team conducted propaganda of perversion. The legislative bases for circulating filth have been developed and developed step by step. As vivid proof, the recent ratification of the Lanzarote Convention in the National Assembly and the signing by President Armen Sargsyan.”
Tert.am reprinted the opinion of ArmNews TV commentator Abraham Gasparyan, asking, “Will we accept that our 6-year-old child comes home from school and asks, ‘Dad, we learned that there is a third sex aside from one between a boy and a girl.” Gasparyan also expressed his doubts through a rhetorical question, “But who can guarantee that such educational programs will not penetrate schools in the wrong way, that is, that they won’t simply wait for a while until the topic is removed from the agenda and then those with a so-called specialist or pedagogical title won’t enter the schools?”
These two news outlets belong to “Quartet Media,” which was founded by 4 former RPA deputies.
Who are the experts and what are their connections?
As a result of the text analysis, we found out that the two conventions were interpreted by politicians, political technologists, lawyers, members of various initiatives, media leaders, clergy, psychologists, sexologists, as well as biologists and others.
31% of the publications on the Lanzarote Convention were politics, and 24% were entitled Law and Society. According to the MIC research, almost half of the observed publications contain political messages.
Several articles reprinted by Tert.am give the impression that the public as a whole is against the convention:
- Fact Sheet: “Past: Istanbul convention will be ‘back on open agenda’ in autumn”
- Mikael Minasyan former RA Ambassador to the Vatican, husband of Serzh Sargsyan’s daughter: “Should the Lanzarote Treaty, which met such strong public opposition, have been passed under conditions of the national emergency?”
The same website discusses the “danger” of the convention, as its stakeholder is the sexual minority community.
- Priest: “It is important to know who will be engaged in the sexual education of the child. If an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBT people has to deal with it, the dangers are obvious.”
- Tsovinar Karapetyan, lawyer: “Prominent advocates of LGBT people are the proponents of this convention.” The latter, without specifying, said that in a number of European countries that ratified the convention, the supporters of the convention “were later identified as pedophiles.”
The specialists who talked to 168.am were making loud statements:
- Narine Nersisyan, sexologist: “Teaching about sexual violence in the first grade is the same as entering the first grade and talking about murderers.”
- Levon Nazaryan, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences, Associate Professor: “I think this convention has to do with the sex industry, which will make money.”
- Karine Nalchajyan, psychologist: “It contains the same dangers as the Istanbul Convention. Children are targeted, children’s mental health.”
Initiatives and politicians
🔻 In 2008, Karine Nalchajyan lost a court case. She presented false information about a lecturer-colleague to the YSLU Rector. She considered the opposition rallies in 2008 “the result of neuro linguistic planning.”
Nalchajyan joined the “Protection of National Values” initiative, of which former Minister of Justice Gevorg Danielyan is a member. It was during Danielyan’s tenure that the government signed the Lanzarote Convention, based on his positive assessment as a minister as well. It was only years later that Danielyan started to see the risks of convention and make false statements about it.
🔻 Gevorg Petrosyan, a former member of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), also gave a positive assessment of the Lanzarote convention as a minister. Years after giving this assessment, he raised substantive questions, “Should you teach children who have just been weaned from milk and fairy tales to protect themselves from sexual exploitation? Is there nothing else?”
🔻 They made statements against the convention and carried out actions on various initiatives. One of them is the “‘Will’ public initiative for the protection of Armenian values.” More about this below.
Istanbul Convention: the transition from content to political context
The Istanbul Convention was mentioned in the discussions of the Lanzarote Convention. Although it is not included in the MIC research, we decided to study this coverage as well. The reason is that both conventions were the subject of wide discussion, they were considered as interconnected dangerous phenomena and were the cause of misinformation for months.
Using the same methodology, we downloaded publications on the Istanbul Convention from the same 3 websites for two periods. Discussions on it intensified in the context of the ratification of the Lanzarote Convention and the referendum on constitutional amendments.
Who interpreted the convention and how?
The campaign against the Istanbul Convention started earlier, before the 2018 revolution. If in 2019 the aspect of content was another subject in the discussions on its ratification, in 2020 there was almost no substantive discussion. It was put in the context of the Constitutional amendments, as if as a result of those changes the Constitutional Court will be obedient to the authorities, and this convention will be ratified without any obstacles and other problematic documents will be signed.
The heads of the media platforms commented on this topic. The founders of BlogNews․am and Politik.am gave a press conference against the Constitutional amendments and the Istanbul Convention at the press club belonging to Angela Tovmasyan, the sister of the President of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan. It’s worth reminding that as a result of the Constitutional amendments, Tovmasyan was to be deprived of the post of the chairman of the Constitutional Court.
Parties and initiatives
Both well-known political parties and people’s parties were active in opposing the Istanbul Convention. The anti-national nature of the convention was discussed. Some brought up the issue of sexual minorities.
- Solidarity Party: “It is the constitutional referendum, the main goal of which, by manipulating in the name of the people, is to pave the way with the hands of our society […] for the adoption of the Istanbul Convention, the establishment of the LGBT community․․․”
- “Armenian Eagles: The United Armenia” party called for “stopping the process of establishing the perverted morals of the Istanbul Convention in Armenia and Artsakh.”
- Eduard Sharmazanov, RPA member: “By saying yes to the referendum, you will say yes to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the propaganda of transgenderism, the establishment of absolute dictatorship. This is another false agenda of Pashinyan.”
- Arthur Vanetsyan, Homeland Party: “Because of the Istanbul Convention, our ordinary citizens are experiencing stress at home. They do not understand that the Istanbul Convention was adopted, what is going to happen, what their child will do.”
On this occasion, the “Human Rights House Yerevan” NGO issued a statement. The organization noted that the referendum on constitutional amendments, in connection with such sensitive issues, “deliberately creates an alarming and hostile environment in the online domain and in the public mood, trying to resolve their own political and narrow personal interests through the manipulation of sensitive topics.”
- Vahagn Chakhalyan, the coordinator of the “Will” initiative, stated that “due to this struggle, today there is no figure who is ready to submit the Istanbul Convention to the National Assembly.” This far-right conservative initiative had started collecting signatures against the Istanbul Convention. In some cases, its members abused citizens who did not want to sign.
Vahagn Chakhalyan was born in Javakhk. He was sentenced in Georgia in 2008 to 10 years in prison for acquiring and possessing weapons, organizing mass rallies or actively participating in them, and hooliganism against a government official. He did not accept the accusations. He was released under amnesty in 2013.
Repetitions of formulations
The comments on the Istanbul Convention in the context of the constitutional amendments did not differ much from expert to expert, from politician to politician. In the cases we noticed, everyone connected this with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the developments of the Artsakh issue, some even with the criminal case initiated against the second president Robert Kocharyan.
Although the framing of the Lanzarote Convention was mainly based on local narratives, in the case of both the Lanzarote and the Istanbul Conventions, some Russian propaganda narratives reached Armenia. They were mainly part of the narrative of Soros and the color revolution.
1️⃣ News.am republished the article of “Golos Armenii” entitled “The army of agents of influence is resisting the National Forces” “․․․The real watershed in society today lies between the disenfranchised national elite and agents of influence, who have occupied almost the entire system of government,” the article reads.
The article circulates conspiracy theories that “Soros financed the RA non-governmental organizations with Ilham Aliyev’s money.” It is reported that the branches of “financial speculator funds” have ceased to exist in the United States, which does not correspond to reality.
According to the newspaper, the same “Sorosians” are in favor of the ratification of the convention. We need a law on the network of foreign agents in Armenia: Such a law operates in Russia.
“Golos Armenii” was established in 1991 on the basis of a “Communist” newspaper. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief Flora Nakhshkaryan received the “Movses Khorenatsi Medal” from the second president Robert Kocharyan and the title of Honored Journalist of the Republic of Armenia from Serzh Sargsyan.
2️⃣ Vahe Haykuni, a columnist for 168.am website, circulates Russian propaganda formulations and narratives. According to him, “it is obvious that the current Armenian government is trying to satisfy the interests of homosexuals.” That is why they want to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
In the titles of 6 out of about 30 materials authored by Haykuni, he used the expression “color revolution.” This expression is also present in other materials. This is a Kremlin formulation, and the author’s sympathy for the Kremlin can be seen in his materials.
For example, he considers the Constitutional amendments of Russia “a truly revolutionary step.” He sees in it a complete restoration of sovereignty, which was opposed by the “foreign network of agents occupying the state system of Armenia.” However, the author did not say a word about the “zeroing,” which allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue in office until 2036.
In another article, Vahe Haykuni considers that in 2018 “Armenia also joined the list of countries that fell victim to color revolutions.” He says that “some expert circles” assessed the processes taking place in Armenia as “occupation.” The same term was used in the material of “Golos Armenii.”
3️⃣ Former police chief Vladimir Gasparyan’s adviser, PR specialist Narek Malyan and his “VETO” movement are looking for foreign agents.
News.am wrote about his press conference in Moldova, the topic of which was the “Effective methods of fighting against the network of the oligarch George Soros: the Armenian experience.” According to Malyan, Soros has his own faction in the Armenian parliament. And he considers the Istanbul Convention to be “against the state and children.” According to him, the composition of the Constitutional Court at that time would not have ratified it, that is why they wanted to change the composition.
Thus, we can say that the conventions have been politicized in the content created and disseminated by 168.am, news.am, tert.am websites on the topic of the two conventions. Often, bypassing the content, separate episodes were manipulated. Even the former officials who approved the conventions and the political force that signed them saw risks in them. Although the narratives around the Lanzarote Convention were local, the Kremlin propaganda also penetrated the field regarding the Istanbul Convention.