- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
July 2, 2004

New “Power” in the Press: “Yerrord Uzh” promises to represent society

A controversial former Karabakh reporter has launched a new newspaper in Armenia, claiming that it will become a tribune for all political forces which possess sensible ideas and sane policy and will serve the interests of society.

“Yerrord Uzh” newspaper appeared this week in Yerevan thus joining the ten major newspapers which claimed to be independent print media in Armenia.

The first edition.

Vahram Aghajanyan, the editor of “Yerrord Uzh” (Third Power) says despite the variety of newspapers in small Armenia society has no sympathy with the press, but apathy as the mass media is out of touch with the community.

“Our newspapers are controlled either by the government or by the opposition and there is no one newspaper that reflects the interests of both groups,” he says. “The mass media is politicized which affects the work of journalists and hinders the development of the mass media in general.”

The full-color 16 page newspaper has circulation of 3,000 and a staff of 25. Aghajanyan would not disclose the paper’s sponsors, saying only that he is supported by a group of businessmen from Russia, US and Europe who do not represent any specific political forces.

“Journalists are not protected in Armenia and there were many cases when journalists were persecuted for their criticism towards government,” he says. “But I will have to admit that I see tiny but positive changes from totalitarianism towards tolerance to mass-media, otherwise it would have no meaning to launch an independent newspaper.”

Aghajanyan himself experienced persecutions and is known for his sharp criticism of Karabakh current authorities.

The reporter moved to Armenia from Karabakh in 2000, after he spent 10 days in Karabakh prison for stories commenting on the politics of the prime minister and assassination attempt against Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasyan. The president was wounded when two gunmen riddled his Mercedes in March 2000.

The stories were published in Karabakh “Tasnerord Nahang” (Tenth province) which was controlled at that time by Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who was accused of organizing the assassination attempt and was imprisoned for 14 years.

The newspaper has suspended publications, and Aghajanyan (who called the situation in Karabakh following an assassination attempt a “witch hunt”) was accused of slandering Prime Minister Anushavan Danielyan and defamation of the facts in his story related to the government policy towards Karabakh resettlement.

Vahram Aghajanyan promises a platform for sensible policy debate.

The Armenian mass media community launched a wide campaign to secure the release of Aghajanyan. Yerevan’s Haykakan Zhamanak daily wrote that the “Karabakh authorities decided to take advantage of the uncertain situation and gag any journalists who are not accountable to the authorities.”

Aghajanyan was sentenced to 12 month in prison but was released. Aghajanyan until recent times was also reporting for Yerevan “Iravunk” (“Right”) newspaper, the official organ of the Union for Constitutional rights which supports Babayan.

Despite many Armenian journalists claim that the mass media in Armenia is not independent and freedom of speech is being suppressed it does not prevent the production of more newspapers. Armenian mass media community is represented by 46 newspapers (nine are most influential) 61 TV companies and 13 radio stations.

In Armenia pluralism means the conflict between two irreconcilable camps: pro-governmental and pro-oppositional. And each press entity expressed virtually the interests of one of the two groups,” Aghajanyan says. “And despite the media is called the fourth power, we called our newspaper ‘Third Power’ which can be represented by a person, journalist, country or politician.”

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Bearing Fruit

A priest blesses a bowl of Armenian apricots prior to the opening of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan on June 30. The fruit was handed out to guests at the opening ceremony at the city's Moscow Cinema.



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