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South Caucasus
Mesrop Movsesyan
Interview with Mesrop Movsesyan, head of an independent Armenian TV Company A1+


Your TV Company A1+ was closed in the year 2002, but however in June of this year you won the suit against the government of Armenia. How can you estimate the state of freedom of speech in Armenia?

Unfortunately, there is nothing to be happy about. Today, an imitation of the freedom of speech is taking place in Armenia. There exist commercial channels, commercial newspapers, radio but if we go deep inside of them, you will surely understand that all of them are monitored and controlled and they are financially dependent from the oligarchs and the business which relates to the management of Armenia and it, in its turn, rigidly controls the notorious freedom of speech.

It became more evident during the election of a president, parliament and even during the municipal elections. It is clear that its channels and its people are working in Mass Medias. And the one who stays beyond a certain circle which is close to the governing body of the country, he or she is considered to be an opposition. The word “opposition” itself in Armenia has long become almost a swear-word. The opposition is perceived as an alien layer, some extraterrestrials who, for some reason, appeared here and who, for some reason, are dissatisfied in this country in which people ought to be satisfied with. In this situation otherwise-minded TV companies cannot coexist in Armenia, for example A1+, the team of which was put in its places. The authorities showed that they could close the channel and that nobody would assume a punishment for it and that people had already calmed down, though in the beginning they protested against it, but now they got used to the idea that there do not exist such a channel any more. Others understood that it would be better to make money quietly and silently, what they are doing very successfully. But the necessity arises they start to defend the interests of their trustees. This is the freedom of speech in Armenia.

A1+ TV Company won the suit filed with the European Court on Human Rights against the Government of Armenia. Your TV channel ought to receive compensation from the authorities and ought to resume its activity. Are there any changes after the European Court pronounced its verdict?

Since the year 2002 right after the closing of our TV Company, we commenced enforcement proceedings regarding our case, on the freedom of speech and on human rights. We lost all eight legal procedures conducted in Armenia. We lodged an appeal and again we lost. Then we could not but lodge a suit with the European Court on Human Rights. After six months of an agonizing expectation we received a verdict which read that our rights ought to be restored and that a tender should be conducted for those channels, the license of which expired and so on. But we were very surprised by the reaction of our authorities. They attempted to persuade the society that the verdict of the European Court did not mean a defeat of the authorities. The authorities affirmed that Mesrop Movsesyan brought a suit to seek the compensation to the amount of one million three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but the court determined a sum to the amount of 20 thousand Euros. In other words, they did not touch the fact of the verdict at all. It appears that I conducted this struggle so as to seek a big sum of money and I was only given 20 thousand Euros and it follows that I lost the struggle. Hence, the authorities affirmed that it was me and not them who lost the struggle. It is surely very absurd!

Now the authorities are willing to hastily change the law regarding TV and Radio Companies and make it be adopted by the Government, cancel all kinds of competitions by declaring that the broadcast is being switched to a digital one. But it is quite clear that it is not the reason for making amendments to the Law. The switching procedure to the digital broadcasting can last decades, since it is necessary to conduct a mass technical re-equipment. Today, we are faced with the process of enforcement of this law so as to cancel all kinds of competitions with a view to obtaining a license. It follows that the licenses obtained before are fortified by those TV channels and powers which possess them in the given stage. This also defines the level of the freedom of speech in Armenia which, in my opinion, is “beyond the plinth”. It is not clear yet whether the parliament will adopt the amendments to the law or not. But I think that the law will nevertheless be adopted in such a form and way suitable for the authorities. As for the human rights, they are also violated. In accordance with the Constitution of Armenia, I have the right to have my own business, have the right for the view of my ideas and the state is obliged to provide me my freedom and defend my rights.

I wonder why it is me who is not allowed to work… I made numerous attempts and made use of various channels in order to commence working, but I failed to achieve it. Our TV channel was considered to be an independent one and not an opposition one, since we provided reliable information both about the authorities and the opposition. But our ex-president Robert Kocharyan turned out to be so stupid that it seemed to him that if there existed an opposition in this country and if the people are aware of it, then the country will perish… He understood the existence of freedom of speech in this way. According to his understanding, the only politician, the only leader is him and no one could attempt to have his status and position. Our conflict with Kocharyan began on the day of execution taken place in the parliament in the year 1999 when we had our permanent live broadcast from the parliament. Our cameramen and our two TV reporters were working there at that time. The president ordered to cancel the broadcasting. I was not obeyed and kept on working. This was the cause of our conflict which reached its triumph in the year 2002. Until now, it has been thought that if I commence broadcasting today, then I will have to make a revolution. Truly, I don’t understand why I should make.


The president has changed in Armenia this year. A new person came to power…

No. Simply a change of decorations took place. The roles remained the same, the actors remain the same. The same script is being played on the same stage. Absolutely nothing has changed. The talks about the struggle against corruption is the same imitation. A couple of days ago I was asked to give a bribe and you know, the sum of the bribe was too high to settle an absolutely legal case. Moreover, these were the people working close with the president.

Did your TV channel receive any compensation from the government?

No, it did not. I think we will not receive from it still long time. The authorities pretend to be idiots. In the beginning they declared that they had time till January. At that time according to the court decision three months was defined. Then the authorities declared that they misunderstood the document, as they had already decided that they had three months’ time so as to appeal against the court decision which was not subject to appeal. Some silly and incomprehensible game is taking place on their side.

It follows that you yourself become the player in this game. What do you intend to do next?

Firstly, we will keep on struggling till final victory. Secondly, after the close of the TV company we changed our profile and continued working for six years. But our main activity is television and that is the reason why we are struggling in order to return our main profile, we are struggling for our rights.

A1+ TV company was closed. But there is a precedent of “GALA” TV Company in Gyumri which the authorities were in no condition to close. How can you account for?

After a big clamour was raised about the closing of “GALA” TV Company, the authorities were scared that they might face another strong blow to their image if the second suit was lodged with the European Court on Human Rights. At that very moment our case was under consideration in the European Court. They knew that the management of “GALA” TV Company is intending to go till the final victory and it was prepared to apply to the European Court. But these movements would not suit the government.


How do you estimate the highlight of the August events in Georgia by Armenian Mass Medias from the professional point of view?

Firstly, what amazed me was the silence of the Armenian Mass Medias. I mean, constant references to Russian Mass Medias, namely Moscow, constant switching of Russian TV channels… It showed that our Mass Medias did not understand yet what was going on at all, what was taking place in the neighbouring country. The Mass Medias were expecting a response from our president who was in the Olympic Games in China. The president stayed a bit long in China, I think he did it deliberately. As far as I know he simply did not know what to say and how to respond. On the one hand, Georgia is our neighbour with whom we have to continue to live on, on the other hand, it is an international scandal, on the third hand, the so-called “a Moscow Father” is waiting for a response. We have to give him answers. Our president deliberately delayed in the answer by referring to some ambiguous organizational questions, he might be awaiting something. The same concerns the Press which somehow was giving out vague information which resulted in misunderstanding about the events happening in the neighbouring country whether it might be a war or an aggression on the part of Georgia or it might be an aggression on the part of Russia… Thank goodness, we succeeded in obtaining information from other sources, as well. But until now, the Mass Medias have been analyzing the situation in Georgia very vaguely. They are scared to say something. I don’t understand why. Moscow has already defined for itself and declared about it to the whole world. But it so happens that Armenia is for Russia, but let us simply keep silence.

What do you think the viewpoint of Russia is? Does the strategic partnership of Russia and Armenia define somehow the level of freedom of speech in Armenia?

In my own opinion, Armenia has always been used by Moscow as a testing area for various state projects. It was more than once proved by the presidential elections related to the lateral troop movements of posts which failed to take place in our country on account of a public figure like Levon Ter-Petrosyan, but the same was a success there in Moscow. Moscow approved its projects in Armenia so as later, considering their errors, it would be able to realize the same in Russia. In other words, the errors of the project were tested for durability in Armenia, as well as the freedom of speech which was later introduced in Russia. Right after the closing of our TV Company, NTV in Russia was the next to follow. But this time, Moscow knew that the TV Company should not be closed, since there was already an example with A1+. They knew that protests would arise; the West and others will interfere in it. Moscow considered the previous errors of our authorities in respect of A1+ in their actions against NTV and other TV channels. That is true that the licenses were seized from the owners of TV channels, but at the same time they compensated them in cash. TV Companies in Russia were pressed then they were repurchased, but they were never closed as it had been done in Armenia. Regarding other matters in Armenia, Moscow tests various models of the state administration, political strategies for vitality.

Is it not dangerous for Armenia itself to serve as a testing area?

It is common knowledge that Armenia is a small and poor country. It has nothing to lose. It has always been beneficial for the authorities for Armenia to become a testing area.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the leader of the Armenian opposition supported the actions in Russia during the August aggression in Georgia, while Serzh Sargsyan would prefer to keep silence. Thus, it follows that an oppositionist Ter-Petrosyan as a result appeared to be a pro-Russian disposed politician rather than the president of our partner Russia…

Ter-Petrosyan is currently seeking strategic partners outside. In other words, Russia can become the partner which will support his movements and actions. In addition, he will face with Nagorno Karabakh problem in case he comes to power. Russia showed that such problems are easy to solve from outside. For instance, Karabakh can request that Russia recognize its independence from Azerbaijan with whom Russia wishes to make friends. It is likely that the reaction of Ter-Petrosyan is a kind of attempt to look ahead and he has to say something of that sort. He is still to face a very hard struggle.


How can you estimate the level of freedom of speech in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan?

I can for sure say that Azerbaijan is seriously faced with the problem of freedom of speech. The situation there is worse than in Armenia. We very often meet with Azerbaijanian colleagues, share our experiences and ideas with them and we wonder how they can bear such pressure. The Aliev team exercises a rigid control and makes pressure on the entire specter of Mass Media. During the time of Shevardnadze, freedom of speech in Georgia was less harsh and rigid than in Armenia now. What amazed me was that after the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the problem of freedom of speech did not vanish in Georgia, it even became more aggravated. An example for this are such TV channels as “Rustavi 2” and “Imedi”. What amazes me more is that the president Sahakashvili more than once used to announce about its adherence to freedom of speech and human rights defense. Nevertheless, the problems still remained. There exist problems of freedom of speech in the entire South Caucasus which require solution. The management of our countries ought to become aware that it is in no condition to function normally without the freedom of speech. I wonder how they are unable to understand this fact by themselves. Might it be the fact that they like to hear praises and words of flattery all the time?! Whenever you close your eyes so as not to see the errors, a crack, a split turns up which cannot be covered or concealed with anything, it even goes deeper and deeper. Might it be the fact that they do not realize that they need to be friends with the press since the Mass Media is a mediator between the authorities and the people. The stronger the bond between them, the better the relations between the authorities and the people will be.

What do you think, what awaits the freedom of speech in our region if throughout many years we were unable to achieve it? It might mean a rollback. The fact is that there is no sense in speaking about the development of democracy in the countries of the South Caucasus without the freedom of speech, isn’t it?

Surely, democracy is a beautiful fairy-tale for us. No absolute democracy exists. But if there is an aspiration for it, then a similar democracy is somehow to be built. I think that it will be built in future. It is the matter of time and all of us will start from scratch since we have had only failures so far. I wish nobody declared that somebody has already built something. The old car broke down, but none of us knows how to build a new one. Probably, we will understand pretty soon that it is necessary not to restore the old car, but build a new one instead, which will be capable of moving ahead.

The Verdict of the European Court regarding your case was the first precedent in the region. Why do you think a similar verdict was pronounced? Other countries face an infringement of freedom of speech, too, don’t they?

This precedent occurred not only in our region, but in CIS countries on the whole. Before our case, a similar decision of the European Court was passed with regards a TV company from Serbia. Then our case was considered. Our precedent was included in the European Court Encyclopedia on freedom of speech. The encyclopedia is to detail about the entire procedure, the court decision and its execution. Truly I cannot say anything about its execution and what and how it will be stated in it. If I remember correctly, after the pronouncement of the verdict, Mathew Braise noted that this case might serve a lesson for those in future who would attempt to infringe and encroach upon the freedom of speech. But… there is a court verdict and our authorities are not thinking of executing it so far.

How will the international societies respond to the execution and non-execution of the court verdict with regard A1+ by our authorities of Armenia?

There was already a response from the European Court Office. They were interested in the measures and steps undertaken by the authorities. I replied that no measures and steps had been taken so far. I had business meetings with the representatives from the US Embassy. They enquired whether anybody from the authorizes had ever met with me personally and what they proposed, whether we had talked about any compromises. My answer was in the negative. They were very surprised at the fact that there was already a court verdict and they suggested meeting…

Is there any internal resource in Armenia so as to maintain and defend the freedom of speech in future?

There is a potential, but there should be a sparkle so as to “burst” and change the situation. Everything got changed after March 1, much was destroyed and broken. Today, it is very complicated and requires a lot of time to restore the previous state. The passion tension was not alleviated, but anyway we are living in the Caucasus where very often the temperament defines your actions more than anything else. The accents are already mixed. It is neither A1+ nor Levon Ter-Petrosyan but a personal dignity and values that come to the fore. In some period of time the dignity of the people participating in the rallies was affected by the fact of closing, for example, A1+, but now many talks like this: I was shot, I was beat with clubs and batons, and I have to pull away his head… The majority thinks that it is his or her own business. In such a situation, it will be difficult to make any emphasis on A1+, on the freedom of speech. It will also have a meaning, but to a less extent.

Did you reporters work in Georgia during the August events?

Unfortunately, no. The point is that at that time I was absent from the country and many of our workers were on holiday. It was simply impossible to gather everybody in such a short period of time. But we received a series of information from Georgia. We constantly observed the situation there. Today, two of our reporters are working in Georgia.

I very often hear in Armenia that the problem of the conflict in Abkhazia and the South Ossetia is over, settled and even settled through war…

I am sure that whatever happened in the South Ossetia is the result of a big provocation. I cannot state that I am speaking against Russia but I do not apprehend the politics of Moscow. According to the Russian Mass Medias, I see that they are under great pressure. The president of Russia himself almost swears at his colleague, the president of another state! It is a politics of the weak. The statements made by the leaders of Russia convinced me that Russia is not right. Only a weak person can afford himself to act like this. A person confident of his rights will act himself adequately which I did not see in the speeches and announcements made by Medvedievs or Putins…


Do your Mass Medias collaborate with the Mass Medias from Georgia and Azerbaijan? Is it possible to establish a regional collaboration? Is there any need for that? In some Russian-language newspapers of Armenia I encountered quite incorrect things directed at Georgia, Azerbaijan. Can the collaboration help us acquire a common language and how real is it to do under present conditions?

Very often, but not over the last years. We, the representatives of the regional press got together, mostly in Georgia. Now I am working with two TV channels from Azerbaijan, we are exchanging information, arrange meetings in other countries. There was an idea of making the South Caucasus center of information equipped with the establishment of a satellite center communication. There was also a hope of acquiring finance from the West, but later it got down the drain.

Can the creation of the regional independent Mass Media be an additional protection of the freedom of speech in the region and raise the level of freedom to a new high-quality level?

Roughly speaking, we need to have a “roof”, support and that will be the international organization and the support will be the finance. We can work normally. Should at least one TV Company be able to raise its professional level, then the remaining TV Companies will automatically follow it. But today, all TV companies are at one average level. All of them look at one another and none of them will make the first step. The same can happen with regards the regional one.

Which state can become the “roof” and support – Europe, USA, Russia?

Well, I guess, it will not be Russia! It can build a very good and durable angar. It can drive everybody there and lock the door and you can sit there and do whatever you wish. But we require to have an open pavilion in which we can socialize and do one thing. For example, the European Union or some international organization can serve as a roof. It should not be the matter of one state.

Made by Irakli Chikhladze
September 2008

Published: 10-10-08
For reference: The European Court on Human Rights upheld the suit filed against Armenia on June 17, 2008 by “Meltex” Company (a founder of an independent TV Company A1+) on behalf of its chief Mesrop Movsesyan. The European Court on Human Rights affirmed that by depriving “A1+” from the air in the year 2002, Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights (freedom of speech) was breached. The European Court obliged the government of the country to pay 20 thousand Euros as compensation.

Dossier: A number of public and journalistic organizations of Armenia, the Yerevan press-club, the Committee on the Defense of Freedom of Speech, the Public Organization on Assistance of Press “Internews”, the club of journalists “Asparez”, the public organization “Femida” put forward a joint announcement in which they expressed their protest against the amendments to the Law regarding TV and Radio Companies of Armenia. In particular, the announcement reads: “We consider this law inapplicable in accordance of which no competition of broadcasting for license will be announced till July 20, 2010. Therefore, no new TV and Radio Companies will have an opportunity of obtaining a license till January of the year 2011.” The authors of the announcement affirm that “the given governmental initiative” has nothing to do neither with Broadcasting Companies nor the defense of the state interests, but it is merely an attempt to get rid of competitions directed at the acquisition of licenses as unnecessary “headache”.
This interview is made during the South Caucasus Film Festival of Peace and Human Rights in Armenia implemented by Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiative by support of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)