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January 21, 2011
Facebook Boom 2010: The “We Are Against…” Walls Stormy the Whole Year
By Hasmik Smbatyan
SAVE Cinema Moscow Open-Air Hall

For the civil society and for the media field of Armenia, 2010 was marked by the activity of social networks, where virtual struggle on public, environmental, national, and political as well as human rights’ issues registered vivid results in some cases.

This had its impact on the increase in the number of people registering in the most frequently used social networks in Armenia – Facebook and Twitter.

People started to create their personal pages not to satisfy their interests of virtual entertainment but to follow and participate in the discussions held on different issues in Armenia via becoming members of their preferred group. Hot virtual discussions didn't escape the media's attention and appeared even in the spotlight of the official bodies.

At the end of 2010 the number of Facebook members registered from Armenia passed the borderline of 110,000 with 53 percent of users being women. According to Facebook statistics, over the last quarter of 2010 the number of Facebook members from Armenia has increased by 44 percent.

“We are against destruction of “Moscow” cinema summer hall”

In Armenia, “virtual civil struggle” on Facebook walls started at the beginning of spring 2010. A start for this struggle was the civil initiative-group against the destruction of “Moscow” cinema summer hall which was created in March and united 6,500 members.

Owing to the group discipline, it became a pioneer among the virtual movements consolidating the group members not only in virtual struggle but also in vicinity of the cinema building.

Due to the example of this group, many comprehended social network as a tool for civil activity and for an effective struggle.

“We are the owners of this city”

53 In 2010 another group, too, struggling for preservation of green areas in the capital began to coordinate its activities through Facebook. About 4,000 citizens joined “We are the owners of this city” initiative created in April.

Despite the protest actions, letters and signature collection, the group failed to stop the construction works of two cafes on the ‘Student Park’ area located between the National Library and Agricultural University.

The Administrative Court returned back the claim of more than 100 residents of Yerevan addressed against the Municipality of the city. The claim demanded to invalidate the construction permissions in the area of ‘Student Park’.

But the most important achievement for the group activists was the fact that except public activists and environmentalists, also ordinary citizens from different districts of Yerevan started to alarm on dozens of construction cases at the expense of green zones of the city.

For example, as a result of joined struggle of citizens and public activists the construction started at “Dragon Stones” park in the Nor Nork district of Yerevan was stopped. The citizens resorted to grosser means: they destroyed the walls erected by the constructor; representatives of opposition, then the Minister of Nature Protection visited the zone, and the latter banned the construction because of lack of expertise.

“We are against the reopening of foreign language schools”

This civil initiative started in May 2010 and united 3,300 members. Only one post on Facebook was enough for the group members to join in front of the National Assembly, the government building and the presidential residence. They demanded to cancel the package of amendments in the ‘Law on Language’ and the ‘Law on Public Education’, which would have paved a way for opening of foreign language schools.

As a result this package became a topic of disputable discussions; it underwent certain amendments and only at the end of 2010 was accepted by the National Assembly not satisfying, however, the demand of the protesting group members.

“We are against holding an Azerbaijani film festival”

Holding of an Azerbaijani film festival, too, failed in November due to the joint struggle through Facebook and Armenian blogosphere. About 5,000 citizens joined this initiative in Facebook.

“No to the reduction of maternity benefits”

Through Facebook, at the end of the year an unprecedented wave of protest was raised also by the pregnant women. The bilingual group, called “Stop changes in maternity leave law”, united about 2,000 people, most of them being young mothers and pregnant women.

They joined to struggle against the amendment to the Law on ‘Temporary Disability Allowance’, which began enforcement since December 1.

The struggle born and coordinated on Facebook wall, shortly, after the virtual area activity moved in front of the presidential residence. For the first time in the history of Armenian civil society pregnant women came out in the street to make their voice heard. The protest was followed by a few other actions in front of the government building and by a meeting with the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
As a result, the Government retreated and promised to improve its own amendment to the law; the Prime Minister gave a corresponding instruction, and late in December the initiative members participated at the discussion of the issue in the relevant standing committee to the National Assembly.

All of these groups became a serious source of social, civil activity reckoned with the political elite and even the officials, who didn't previously respond to some of the civil protest actions.

The informative value of the civil groups formed on the social network sometimes became higher in quality than that of the traditional media. These groups became also a useful source of information for journalists.

Photocollage by Hasmik Smbatyan


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