Virtual Parallels

Development of Social Networks in Armenia and Azerbaijan

Development of Social Networks in Armenia and Azerbaijan

Freedom of Expression in Social Networks Is at the Same Level as in Other Media 

- How widely do people make use of social networks and which of the networks are the most popular ones in Armenia? 
- In Armenia social networks are developing at the same pace as the Internet spreads out. According to the data of CRRS (Caucasus Research Resource Center), by the end of 2011, 44.7% of the population in Armenia had Internet access at home. If we are to take into consideration that it has been a year ever since we received these data, we can say that already about 50% of the population of Armenia has Internet at home.  
The most popular social network with us is the Odnoklassniki. This June the representatives of the Odnoklassniki website announced that they have about 787.000 visitors from Armenia. In the past 6 months there has been a growth in the rate of new visitors, signing up to the website by 5%. In my opinion, this social network plays a very important role for the spread of the Internet in the regions and villages in Armenia, since the people, having family abroad or relatives, who are labor migrants, communicate with one another through such channels. In provinces people associate the Internet with Odnoklassniki and Skype services.
The second most popular social network in Armenia is the Facebook. This is a very dynamically developing network. According to the data of website, there are 325.220 users of this social network in Armenia: this makes up 10.96% of the population in the country. In the last 6 months a growth of 15% was recorded in the number of the users. Facebook is a place where people communicate and are politically and socially active, while Odnoklassniki network is known as a place where schoolchildren and people who have relatives abroad communicate or regard this network as a place where it is possible to make acquaintances. 
Other relatively popular networks in Armenia are Vkontakte, Twitter and Youtube. 
- Are the citizens free to express themselves in social networks, what is the attitude of the authorities in the country to this phenomenon and in general, how developed is the so-called citizen journalism in Armenia?
- Certainly, people are free to express their opinions. But even in social networks people cannot forget that they are journalists, officials or bank employees. A person, is surely, free to speak out as he/she wants, but one is supposed to bear responsibility for that. That is to say a free statement in social networks is the same as a free statement in traditional media.
In my opinion, the authorities do not control social networks. It is very difficult, since the environment is changing constantly. I assume that the power may be using the social networks in order to find out the moods of the people and the upcoming protests. But this instrument can be used by both the power and the opposition. During the last elections in Armenia there were a few functioning platforms of citizen journalism. People who did not want to be mere observers during the elections had an opportunity to post photos in different sources, give information or inform of violations and election falsifications. Hundreds of announcements were published on a well-known website operating at the time – It is difficult to evaluate the impact of this instrument on the transparency of the elections, however, it worked as a tool, and citizen journalists were doing their job very well. There are also other instruments for citizen journalists – for example, Mynews, and the information websites of A1+, which have special sections allocated for citizen journalism. As for bloggers, recently we have been observing a decline in their activity: people prefer to be more active in social networks.
-  What role do social networks play in the social life in Armenia, in the period of the elections and other socially significant processes?
- Political figures – Ministers, Deputies, heads of administrative regions, the mayor of Yerevan, and the political parties – are getting registered on Facebook social network. In the administrations of these figures a new position is established gradually – an official responsible for spreading information in social networks.
In the 2012 elections we observed a very interesting phenomenon: communication between adversaries in traditional media was very correct and well-balanced, however, the real problems, existing among opposing parties, were reflected on Facebook social network. The adversaries were disseminating caricatures, collages, and posters. A user, named Varpet (Master) Onik, disseminated caricatures on the power. To counterbalance him, another Varpet (Master) came forth who was exercising black PR against the opposition.
Civil activists generate their own media within social networks in order to get together during important social developments and create information occasions for traditional media. On Facebook political figures, media and intelligentsia representatives are more than on the Odnoklassniki network. I think that the “migration” from Odnoklassniki to Facebook is conditioned also by the social activity of the people.  
-Do Armenians and Azerbaijanis communicate in social networks and what is the attitude of the society to such communication?
- They do, of course. They communicate on various topics. I have a friend with whom we speak about football. Everyone has their own interests.  
As for Ramil Safarov, Facebook Armenians have started to actively discuss this decision and have come up with collages and posters. And in those days many who have Azerbaijani friends, including me, were wondering how they would react. And I am very proud and happy that some of them reacted adequately to Ramil Safarov’s return and his promotion to the status of a hero.  
In general, the reaction of Armenians and Azerbaijanis to this event was very harsh: debates burst out on the social networks that developed into hacker wars, originated by both parties.
Definitely, just as this event is impeding the process of the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, it is similarly negatively impacting on the communication between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in social networks. 

Communication between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Social Networks Looks Like a Virtual War

-How widely do people make use of social networks and which of the networks are the most popular ones in Azerbaijan? 
-Day by day the number of social network users is growing in Azerbaijan. According to statistics, there are over 870 thousand Facebook users in Azerbaijan. This means that this network is the most popular one. Everyone is free to select his or her own direction in using a social network.
The existence of various directions brings about a certain degree of interest in social networks and commercial structures. We can say that the main and larger brands have organized their services for the users in Azerbaijan via Facebook. Political parties and governmental agencies are also actively involved in this service. In Azerbaijan Twitter is not as popular as Facebook, however it seems to be taking over. The Azerbaijani users will have to study the possibilities of the Twitter in more detail for it to become popular, too. This social network itself is taking concrete steps in this direction. For example, I should say that the possibility of translating the Twitter platform into the Azerbaijani language is being considered.
-Are the citizens free to express themselves in social networks, what is the attitude of the authorities in the country to this phenomenon and in general, how developed is the so-called citizen journalism in Azerbaijan?
-In fact there is no such thing as censorship in the social networks in Azerbaijan. At least, it is not stipulated by the law. That is why we can assert that there are no impediments for the freedom of expression and use in social networks. Anyone can express his or her opinion in the course of the discussion on this or that matter.
To substantiate what I said, I can bring the example of the existence of the Facebook profiles of the Ministry of Taxes and other executive authorities on social networks, as well as that of the head of the state.  Even if there is such a statement that citizens are intimidated by the Police or the authorities for various expressions on social networks, still we have witnessed no litigation on this matter. As for citizen journalism, there are no grounds to claim that there are no conditions for it in Azerbaijan or that impediments are brought forth for the creation of such conditions.  
-What role do social networks play in the social life in Azerbaijan, in the period of elections and other socially significant processes? 
-One of my colleagues, who had his internship in the USA, told me that he came across several dissertations on the topic of Obama and His Campaign PR in His Candidacy Period in one of the libraries in the country. The recent Parliamentary elections showed that in Azerbaijan, too, they campaign on social networks in the course of the elections. That happened also in the latest elections for municipalities. This can be testified to by the online discussions on the meetings with the candidates that took place in individual constituencies. It is interesting to note that these discussions were conducted by the representatives of the opposition and the incumbent power, as well as individuals who had no party affiliation. Naturally the candidates representing the opposition and those who had no party affiliation were more active on social networks, than the representatives of the power. The former explained this activity by the fact that unlike the representatives of the power they were not given sufficient time on air and in the local media to be able to present their pre-electoral political platforms.  That was the reason why they had to resort to social networks.
-Do Armenians and Azerbaijanis communicate in social networks and what is the attitude of the society to such communication?
- Communication between the representatives of the peoples living in the conflict zone looks more like a virtual war and a fight. Unfortunately, in the stead of tolerant discussion on existing problems there is quite a lot of cursing and humiliating expressions, as well as expressions that foment the situation are thrown at one another. We could bring the example of expressions made by either party with regard to Ramil Safarov’s extradition and pardon. Besides, it can be seen also from voiceovers in the video clips posted onto Youtube that come with national music and other national nuances.


30 January, 2014
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