The newspaper “Asbarez,” published in Los Angeles, has a history of 114 years. It is the only bilingual (Armenian and English) daily media in the United States. It is also the only daily newspaper that still has a paper version.
Ara Khachatryan, editor of the English section of Asbarez.com, says that now the newspaper is published twice a week, but before the coronavirus, it would publish five days a week. “We had to cut it because of Covid, but it was also an occasion for our Armenian readers to follow the online news more calmly and more often.”
Ara Khachatryan says that the situation in Armenia, of course, has its impact on Diaspora communities. “After the war, there was chaos, post-war issues complicated the situation even more. Neither the pro-government parties nor the opposition has a special new agenda to solve the problems that have been created.”
The question of who finances the media is very important. How important is the point of view of the ARF for the editorial policy of “Asbarez”? After all, the image of a free press is always more valuable.
“Asbarez” has always been an ARF newspaper, and the funding comes from our advertisement, but more from our community, thanks to whose donations we are able to take the financial burden from the shoulders of the ARF.
Of course, we try to reflect the ARF principled approaches with our editorials. But let us also remember that the idea of the ARF press was created when only that party was functioning.
And the idea of that press was to become a free stage, an opportunity to exchange opinions.
Of course, even now we try to present the ARF ideology and programs through editorial and other articles. There are internal disagreements with the party, but at least I try to preserve its independence.
And it is interesting that the essence of the ARF press was to be able to involve foreign circles around our ideology from the very first day.
In Los Angeles, the Armenian-language media, mainly television, seem to be busy with very narrow, local issues and have made few attempts to expand the audience, even by creating English content for the media to quote, discuss and inform more people.
Yes, the non-Armenian press also quotes us. And not only our coverage of issues related to Armenia but also our local news.
For example, in the urgent days of the epidemic, the government system here, which was supposed to inform the people what to do, what not to do, and when to do it, unfortunately, was weak in Armenian and did not have time to communicate with the Armenian community.
And our role was that we covered the news every day so that the people would understand that Covid is not the ordinary flu, which passes thanks to taking pills, but it is an important public health problem.
And how do you manage to filter the information flows coming from Armenia? After all, our media field is very polarized and full of manipulations.
The most difficult thing is that, for example, when I have to edit or write a news item, I have to check it from hundreds of sources, because in Armenia, unfortunately, it is not clear what role the media play.
I remember that years ago people walking in Armenia had newspapers, that is, the culture of reading was somehow present in everyone.
I was in Armenia when the Karaglukh events took place and I was trying to find out how the people around me get the news and then cover the news in their media. Many said that they receive news via Facebook, Telegram, listening to the stories of their neighbors, or, say, from a video published by an eyewitness in Artsakh.
Unfortunately, the whole information system in Armenia was violated at one stage, and the news turned into “this is what this said.” Also, with the assumption that the reader knows everything about the speaker and is well versed in what it is about.
In other words, there is no context that will help the reader to understand, for example, the basis on which a statement they read was made, or why it was made now.
Or where the author of that statement lacked by answering or not answering the journalist’s questions.
I also feel that the culture of dealing with the media in this way has also come to Los Angeles and many people start receiving their news exclusively from social media and everyone turns into a political analyst, doctor, and so on.
Of course, this is not only Armenia’s problem, but it is also a global issue, as the people live in a certain environment of misinformation, and reality itself is questioned.
If I say that now there is a glass on the table, there will definitely be people who will say that I am distorting reality. Meanwhile, the glass is right in front of me, on the table. And that is a fact.
Do you have a correspondent in Armenia?
We do not. And that complicates our work.
When something important happens, I start calling this and that person I know to find out the truth.
The war was the best example. On October 3, 2020, there was already a conviction that we were defeated. But we continued to hear the cry “We will win,” which was made every day by Artsrun Hovhannisyan wearing a military uniform. And although it is clear that the warring state has its protocol, it all reached a point when they seemed to laugh at the person in front of them.
I don’t blame Artsrun, but the entire system that made the people stand up.
A rally was held in Los Angeles on October 11, which was attended by 120 thousand people. The same digital picture was on the day of the 100th anniversary of the Genocide when we organized a campaign, planning and organizing every step six months in advance.
That is, if the people feel the importance, they will stand up and get to where they need to be.
The enthusiasm that we will win is also connected with the mentality of the last thirty years that Armenians are always victorious. We won the first Artsakh war, then the April war, and now we will win this one as well.
Did the myths interfere?
If we look back, perhaps I was also an accomplice in some way.
Because if you grew up as a Diaspora Armenian, living your whole life with the dream of a free, independent, and united Armenia, and suddenly in 1991 Armenia became independent, created a liberation movement, including Artsakh in the vision of its free state, and finally won the war a few years later, whether you like it or not, you start to feel excited.
But the Armenian governments have also not consistently conveyed in any way the idea that we continued to be at war.
During my time in Armenia, I have always been concerned that we are a state that is still at war and we must act based on that fact.
As, for example, in Israel, which aligns all its steps with that mentality, we are at war.
Do you think that after the defeat and the breaking of myths, people are assessing the situation more soberly?
I have often heard that the people of Armenia have despaired that people do not care about the future. It is not like that; I saw that the people understand and take much care. What should a person do, sit at home and mourn 24 hours a day?
No, you have to try to get up and continue your life in some way. To live. Armenia is the home of Armenians. After all, even after any bad event, a person wants to stand up, that is normal behavior.
Let’s accept that we do not live in a movie but in reality.
At the time when the Azerbaijanis had already invaded Parukh and were already going to Karaglukh, the Armenian leaders announced that they wanted to start peace talks.
Perhaps there is politics there, but how can one, especially seeing the current aggressive clash between the West and Russia, propagate such dreamy things? Of course, I also want peace, but at what cost?
For 44 days we covered the war day and night.
We also had our difficulties, because, from the first day of the war, our website was under attack.
It was a very terrible situation because, on the one hand, we were trying to focus on the news, on the other hand, we were correcting the functionality of the website with a team of specialists. And they were very surprised how 12 million people could try to enter our website in a few minutes. And from different countries, African, Asian, etc.
Whatever the case? It was very difficult to hear news about the deportees, lost property, lives, and territories. My two grandmothers were from Karabakh, I often visited Artsakh and it was a great pain for me.
How can the Armenia-Diaspora connection be restored now?
The Diaspora has changed a lot, and not only because of the war. If we look at the Armenians of California, we will see that the whole colony has changed. Now there is a large number of Armenians here who have come, settled, and formed a part of the common. And their numerical impact is quite large now.
And, of course, there is a change in culture. If we go to Glendale public schools, we will see a large number of Armenian students who have created a new culture and also a new dialect of Armenian, which is a fusion of different Armenian dialects and a little English. And students of that age understand each other and fit each other’s culture into their daily lives. That’s good, of course.
But I cannot answer the question of what to do.
And I do not think that Armenia knows how to cooperate with the Diaspora now either.
Armenia’s current position seems, to some extent, foreign to the mentality of the Diaspora Armenian, but the Diaspora Armenian should also try to look at the issues more broadly to feel that Armenia has also reached this state due to some pressure.
If we have to sit down and look for who to blame, we will not achieve anything, we will only lose the country. Even if we find a culprit, it will not solve the difficulties and challenges we face, because the situation is getting worse day by day.
For the most part, the Armenian media is always ready to find culprits, remaining at the level of gossip and propaganda. And it really creates more chaos than it expands the picture.
When I was in Armenia, I wanted to meet with the new head of Armenpress, unfortunately, I did not have a chance. I wanted to ask his thoughts about making their news more accessible to the people.
The fact that it is a state news agency does not mean that it should only propagandize. Let it do so, sure, but in a more accessible and digestible way for the reader.
Suppose Ara Khachatryan spoke somewhere for ten minutes, it is written a hundred times that Ara Khachatryan sneezed during his speech. And judging by the headlines, it turns out that this is the most important thing that happened.
When any media wants to report that news, it must put all these sneezes together and then delete it, because half of the information becomes waste.
I think the culture of working with the media, which once existed but does not exist now, is lagging behind. Of course, it is known who sponsors some media outlets and what their agenda is. That is why the role of Armenpress is also important.
There are also no serious debates in Armenia because during the last thirty years Armenia has not produced the necessary intelligentsia, journalists.
There was more need to build shopping malls and buildings than to create platforms for thinking people. Ok so they set up shopping centers, then what…?
What I am saying is that the state news agency can play a bigger role and work flexibly, because they are not doing a bad job.
And if, say, I have to check the words of the Prime Minister, I would rather do so from Armenpress or public radio, than, for example, from news.am.
Many websites do not even directly quote the words of the Prime Minister (I wish they would only do that so that we do not follow that kind of stuttered information), rather they only take out the parts that are in their favor.
In the current post-war reality, I see very few quality materials or opinions from people who are not the mouthpieces of this or that political party but are neutral.
In the American press, especially after 2016, the polarities have been emphasized a lot, and we all feel that in our daily lives.
Even the New York Times, which says we are free and independent, is a very good example of how they are not independent. When the Jews were the owners, the newspaper did not even cover the Holocaust (then apologized), and the Armenian Genocide was covered day by day, even after that it published a book with those materials. It took many years of work.
Were it not for that media work, the American people would not have said in such a mechanized way, yes, Israel is always right and at every step.
Is the same now in the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war?
Zelensky has become a hero in the American media. But you also feel that the people here are not so inclined to think with a simple formula that Russia is bad, Ukraine is unconditionally good.
They think that in any case, that proposed approach is worth editing a bit.
I recently met with the international editor of the LA Times, who said that they only follow state messages. But how can the media only do that, because isn’t it the fourth power, which must be part of the state balance?
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan