Armenia: Guys Who Struggled for Independence Are Now in Prison

Today marks the 20th anniversary of modern Armenia’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, materialized thirteen months later in September 1991. Some of the founding fathers, however, do not see Armenia as free as they had imagined it two decades ago.

Aram Manukian, the youngest Supreme Court council member who passionately recited the declaration reminds of imprisoned opposition activists he considers political prisoners in today’s Armenia. In the words of Radio Free Europe:

Manukian, who is a senior member of independent Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress opposition alliance, however, sees some serious losses that Armenia has suffered.

“We have taken the way of losing independence in the past ten years,” he said. “All the international treaties, all documents, all resolutions passed on Armenia are a loss for Armenia. It is also a loss that the guys who struggled for independence are now in prisons. This is a disgrace.

Despite a June 2009 amnesty that in effect released many opposition activists arrested for the March 1, 2008 post-election violence in capital Yerevan, a number of political activists remain imprisoned in Armenia.

For ordinary Armenians, however, economic and social rights are as important as political ones:

One elderly resident in Yerevan called it important that two decades after declaring independence Armenians still have an independent homeland. “To be free and independent is good to everyone. We would have a great country if people’s living standards improved,” he added.

Azerbaijan: Popular Website “Temporarily” Closed

First they came after dissenting newspapers such as Realni Azerbaijan. Then they came after foreign broadcasts such as BBC and Radio Free Europe. Now, just weeks before the March 18, 2009 constitutional referendum that would institute unlimited presidency, the government of Azerbaijan is allegedly censoring the content of a popular and semi-independent website, In the words of Global Voices Online:

“[…] the content of a leading news site considered more independent than most in Azerbaijan was replaced on Thursday with a message informing readers that the “project is closed.

A day later, after the authorities denied allegations that they were behind the disappearance of, a new message instead explained that the site was down for technical reasons and would reappear after 25 February.

Blogs by media specialists and analysts in Azerbaijan, however, were not convinced.”

Given that the “temporary” closure of was done without a court order – unlike in the case of other media restrictions in Azerbaijan – it has been assumed that the website will reopen with censored content.

The mainly Russian-language has been a valuable source of information about Azerbaijan and the region. In addition to original reporting, the website has been republishing information from a variety of regional sources, even posting full articles from neighboring Armenia. Azerbaijan and Armenia are technically at war, although the 1994 ceasefire blocked full-scale clashes, over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition to the news section, the website has been offering a popular forum. One of the most popular online portals in the entire former Soviet Union, the Russian-language forum at has had thousands of active users. One of the hottest sections of the forum has been “Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

In November 2004, as a Russian-language Armenian forum user reported at the time, the administration of the forum promoted its first Armenian moderator, Arthur, giving him the privilege to delete/edit offensive and/or unrelated content from discussions.

The appointment was indeed unprecedented, as the Russian-language announcement from the forum administrator explained:

“For the first time in the virtual world, a user of Armenian nationality – the respected Arthur – has become the Moderator of an Azerbaijani forum.

We should note that we came to [this decision] after a long year… of surveys, nominees, consultations with other Moderators… and taking into account the opinions of well-respected users. […] It shows also high level of the Armenian users, and atmosphere of tolerance which has developed at this forum.


P.S. And now you can throw stones at me.”

Another, more recent, controversial move at the forum has been the creation of a private section where users with over 500 posts could discuss and post adult content.

What will be different on if it reopens on February 25, 2009?

By: Simon Maghakyan, Eurasia Country Specialist