Interview with Manana Aslamazyan
Personality Sketch: Manana Aslamazyan was the Chief of Party of the Alternative Resources in Media (ARM) Program from 2010 to 2013). She worked as director of Internews in Russia (14 years) and Europe (7 years). She has won multiple awards, including the TEFI award in Russia for “Personal Contribution to the Development of Media.”
The heads of 3 Armenian NGOs had a flight layover in Paris and I was invited to join them at the airport to think over a new media development project for Armenia. At the end of the day, the brainstorming, fed with some terrible airport sandwiches, shaped the Consortium of 4 organizations and engaged me personally in the project. The next moment I started to accommodate myself to the idea of leaving my convenient and safe life in Paris and returning to my homeland. Plenty of water flowed under the bridge since that inception meeting and the project was elaborated into a smart strategy by a team of experts. The ARM project shaped at the Charles de Gaulle Airport responded equally well to a call for proposals by USAID, the Consortium’s vision and the situation in Armenia, and therefore eventually won the bid.
We jumped into a complicated situation in Armenia. The emergence of liberal media in the early 1990s was followed by an era of strong government control and self-censorship in the 2000s. The events of March 1, 2008, and the state of emergency declared by the government in the aftermath of the presidential elections in that year, further deteriorated the situation. I still believe that the ICT revolution, which came right on time, saved Armenia from turning into a totalitarian state. The emergence of the internet and new media became the anchor and fuel for our project. Yes, Armenia was a poor developing state, and yes, the media literacy level of the population was very low, but there was a way out. And our project came to activate a gateway in that direction.
The project idea implied a strategic task of synergizing existing competences. The Consortium engaged four leading organizations with a sustained reputation, professional staff and crosscutting mission of civil society and media development. Internews invested its international expertize and networks, Yerevan Press Club (YPC) brought its advocacy capacity, the Media Initiative Center (MIC) was a national leader in media development and Eurasia was traditionally strong in civil society engagement and grant-making.
Looking back at the project, I think we eventually achieved what we strived to change in the country. We contributed to a dramatically increased level of access to alternative information. We supported several valuable initiatives which worked to produce new information in Armenia through trainings, grants and advocacy. And if I were to pick a single word for the project, “multimedia” would be that word. The project managed to create an effective synergy between multiple technological and content media and boosted a process that cannot be turned back anymore.
The project lived through two rounds of national elections: parliamentary (2012) and presidential (2013). These are the moments of excessive public consumption of information and the ARM project was at hand with the crowdsourcing platform, regional discussions at and TV talk shows. We worked for a diverse range of social groups. If I were to draw the “police sketch” of the project beneficiaries, I’d like to think of an average Armenian family living in Yerevan or any other corner of the country, getting together after work at a family dinner and discussing the information they access through different gadgets and means. I’d like to think that they reflect on the information that is brought to them thanks also to ARM’s investment.