YEREVAN – A controversial project was unveiled by the Iranian Embassy in Armenia on Tuesday, November 23d, offering grant opportunities to civil society organizations for proposals on silencing alternative media. The project will be implemented through local partners – Slavonic University of Yerevan and “Just Asia – Mentorship Foundation”.
The project was launched at the Embassy, where the Cognizant Theocracy Officer of the Autocracy and Due Governance Portfolio, Mahmud Mushtek, outlined the goals of the project. “The Armenian government faces serious challenges today with the emergence of new media like blogs, Youtube, and facebook, which are making it increasingly difficult to enforce the need to shut up the active youth, general citizens and human rights activists”.
“This project is about stimulating the civil society of Armenia to seek modern and innovative ways to zip the hole, so to speak. We are happy to sponsor both one-time “silence activities” and long-term “hold-tongue” initiatives. We hope that by the end of the project, Armenian society will make the most of its constitutional right to keep silence,” Mushtek concluded.
Gabriel Ter-Gevorgian, head of the “Just Asia – Mentorship Foundation” who is responsible for implementing the IRI project stressed the need for the Government to pitch in the efforts. “The project alone will not be effective unless the Government fully embraces its responsibility to educate the new generations on the negative outcome of online government criticism.”
“The State (aka Public) Media should support this effort by actively illustrating the inevitable consequences of criticizing policies and issues in Armenia by publicizing what happens to bloggers and media activists in Iran and Azerbaijan,” Gevorgian said.
The project is co-financed by the Embassy of the Russian Federation which has agreed to provide technical assistance to Armenian ministries by silencing targeted alternative media outlets and public forums. Russian specialists will facilitate extensive trainings among government officials on how to block online media tools such as Google, Youtube and potentially Wikipedia.
One Russian Embassy official, who preferred to remain unnamed, shared his opinion with ArmCom, “Look, Sergey – cool name by the way – Armenia is not just our military parking lot but also an important little friend in the region. We definitely want Armenian authorities to be highly appreciated by the people without having to resort to so-called “Western Democracy” where government is re-elected each time people are unhappy because of poor government performance or clearly ineffective leadership.”
“The 21st century provides sufficient tools and know-how to improve the image of the government without compromising the development of its fragile autocracy,” he continued.
Shocked by the new project, major critic of silence and head of the Freedom of Information Center of Armenia (FOICA), Shushan Doydoyan, related her concern to ArmCom over the phone; “Seriously.. they gotta be kidding me.. has the country gone crazy? Anyway, we are committed to fight this project via another new media project called…” unfortunately the call broke off on the other end before Shushan finished her line.
Generously sponsored by Iranian tax-payers, this project envisages a strong sustainability program after its initial base period. Should the “Freedom of Silence” initiative be successfully implemented, the Embassy vows to kick off follow-up projects on the mitigation of rallies and educational violence.