The fight against vaccinations in the world has turned into political activism. Opponents of the vaccine use the tools of civil society to spread unscientific and repeatedly denied information to the masses and to create largely unfounded fears.
In Armenia, too, anti-vaxxers are creating their own non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media outlets and “movements” to make this activism more legitimate.
Own media for propaganda
Activists and politicians who spread anti-vax myths not only use the platforms provided by the press but also set up their own news websites.
The most famous of them is Medmedia.am, which was created by urologist Gevorg Grigoryan with the money provided by the US Embassy. In 2020, this fact became a cause of scandal: The international press wrote that the grant provided by the embassy was used to spread false news about the epidemic and vaccinations. The embassy informed that it will not continue the cooperation with the website anymore
In the special elections to the National Assembly in 2021, Gevorg Grigoryan was on the list of the “I have honor” bloc but did not pass the parliament.
Another example is Pastark.am (the site was not available at the time of writing this article). In recent months, Marina Khachatryan, a former member of the Yerevan Council of Elders, shared its materials on her Facebook page on a daily basis. This site promised “only verified and substantiated information,” but often spread false news about the epidemic and vaccinations. Although there is no information about its owners in Pastark.am, Media.am managed to find out that the website is affiliated with Marina Khachatryan.
Only one phone number is mentioned as a piece of contact information on the Facebook page of the site: 099 378700. This same phone number is mentioned as contact information on the Facebook page of the “National Control System” NGO.
The chairman of this NGO is Arthur Grigoryan. He and Khachatryan are party members and work closely together․ They give press conferences together, file a lawsuit or an ombudsman application, appear on each other’s social network pages. Recently, almost all the publications on Grigoryan’s page are Khachatryan’s speeches or posts (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4, example 5).
The “National Control System” has a Facebook page, where Khachatryan and Grigoryan’s speeches are posted, as well as Pastark.am materials. The page also publishes about the charities performed by the NGO, mainly the help provided to soldiers.
Aside from that, Marina Khachatryan is affiliated with another NGO, “Healthy Society.” It was founded in 2019, Khachatryan is the president of the NGO. It is in this position that Khachatryan often gives interviews. However, Media.am could not find any information about the activities of this NGO․ It does not have a Facebook page or website, no reports or other information are available on the Internet.
2021 Khachatryan and Grigoryan were nominated by the “Armenian Homeland” party in the early parliamentary elections held in 2010. Former police officer, scandalous blogger Vardan Ghukasyan (known as Dog) is also among the party.
Likes “per order”
Another anti-vax group, the Army of Light, has also adopted a special toolkit reserved for civil society. It is registered in the register of legal entities as an NGO. The organization became known to the public in the fall of 2021 when it began to organize daily rallies against “mandatory vaccination and testing.”
The leader of the “Army of Light” is Karen Arayan. Arayan became famous in 2012 after the publication of nude photos of actress Angela Sargsyan. Arayan was sentenced to one year in prison on this charge.
The “Army of Light” presents itself as the bearer of the ideology of “Armenian militarism,” which is based on the idea of “preparing the country for wars of occupation.”
In addition to preparing for a war of aggression, Arayan’s organization is actively involved in disseminating false or manipulative information about vaccinations. For example, the members of the organization announced that the vaccines were not fully tested, and on their vials was written “Experimental.” However, the members of the “Army of Light” probably confused the abbreviation EXP (i.e. expiry) on the AstraZeneca bottle with “experimental.” The Ministry of Health also denied this information.
There are closed WhatsApp groups for people who are members of the “Army of Light,” in which the members are distributed according to interests (for example, there is an IT group). One of Media.am’s journalists joined such a group. According to them, the groups call on people to “like” and spread Karen Arayan’s speeches. In some cases, the groups posted pictures of fears about vaccinations that members of the group had to post on their pages. It is also worth noting that in one of the posts, members were urged to leave comments (presumably negative) on other Facebook pages spreading myths about the coronavirus, as the latter “use both the Light Army pictures and the flag and the calls and phrases… “But they do not want to join us and become one bit of a person.”
Activist Dmitri Harutyunyan is also trying to coordinate people on social networks and beyond and involve them in the anti-vax movement. He studied at the medical university, but left medicine and became involved in politics. Harutyunyan is sure that the vaccines have not been tested and are very dangerous. He started collecting signatures for a free platform for civic initiatives at Change.org. However, the website removed Harutyunyan’s signature collection due to false allegations about vaccinations (after which Harutyunyan started collecting signatures again against “creeping satanism, which acts under the name of ‘vaccinations'”).
Harutyunyan mentions that he has undertaken the process of “uniting” people against vaccines. In addition to Facebook activity, he regularly organizes meetings with like-minded people (example 1, example 2, example 3). The activist posts the announcements about the meetings in the “For Freedom” Facebook group, which is coordinated by him.
Dmitri Harutyunyan is also a member of the “Free Will” anti-vax group founded by the leader of the “Awakening” party Ara Zohrabyan, which became known in the press and social networks in the fall of 2021 for its fight against “compulsory vaccinations.”
Anti-vaxxers are linked to initiatives
Anti-vaxxers are connected within the framework of this or that anti-vax initiative or political organization. We should bear in mind that such movements are small initiatives that often do not have official registration or published membership lists. They often exist as Facebook pages or have initiated events a few times only to no longer show public activity. Therefore, in our list revealing the interconnections, we have included the people who spoke at the events organized by these movements.
The biggest initiative uniting them is the “Free Will” formed in September 2021. Its leader is Ara Zohrabyan, former chairman of the RA Chamber of Advocates, now the leader of the “Awakening” party. The initiative fights against government decisions to prevent the spread of the epidemic, from vaccinations to coronavirus testing.
A number of doctors and lawyers have joined this initiative.
For example, the former director of the AIDS Center Samvel Grigoryan and the epidemiologist of the same center Eduard Hovhannisyan. By the way, in their turn, they have created initiatives, respectively “Union of Decent Medical Workers” and “Anti-Epidemic Alliance.” They present themselves on behalf of these initiatives and launch an anti-vax campaign on their social network pages. For example, they spread the content created by “Free Will” or its members or the false claims of foreign anti-vax doctors.
Moreover, Samvel Grigoryan is the host of a program on Medmedia.am which was founded by Gevorg Grigoryan.
Another member of Free Will, Emil Markosyan, also took part in the activities of another anti-vax movement, the Army of Light. And Dmitri Harutyunyan has already created the “For Freedom” movement, which opposes “all ultra-globalist projects, be they in the form of corona hysteria, vaccinations or other genocidal conventions […]”