Construction of a New Discourse on Russia in the Scope of Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict in the Samizdat of 1989

Construction of a New Discourse on Russia in the Scope of Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict in the Samizdat of 1989

The purpose of the research is to analyze characteristics of the late Soviet-period Armenian samizdat and to study the representation of Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Russian relations within it. It was at this time samizdat gradually became official. The policy of glasnost that was announced in the USSR in 1986 and the gradual escalation of the Karabakh conflict led to the fact that in a short period of time the Armenian dissident press was scourged by articles of nationalist anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Russian content. It should be noted that this was a bottom-up movement, since the official press in the Soviet Union bypassed questions of national content in every way, adhering to the policy of "friendship of nations."

Illustration from Harutyun Marutyan book Iconography of Armenian Identity. Volume 1: The Memory of the Genocide and the Karabagh Movement, Yerevan: "Gitutyun" Press, 2009, p. 157 — Image Credits

A great amount of literature known as samizdat, self-published or dissident literature, was left out of the Soviet period bibliography. The reason is that during the Soviet era, there was no bibliographic coding of prohibited literature. In most of the cases, it was simply discovered and destroyed by the Committee for State Security (hereafter KGB) or was attached to the criminal cases of political prisoners and kept in the archives of the KGB (Harutyunyan, 2014, p. 20). Dissident literature was published quite irregularly - only one or just a few non-periodical copies throughout the year. That is why today it is quite difficult to find certain names of the Armenian samizdat in general bibliographical catalogs.

First of all, we need to clarify what we understand by samizdat in order to distinguish it from officially published literature and press. Samizdat is a certain type of books, magazines, newspapers, leaflets, posters, and other similar literature, that regardless of the number and periodicity of publishing, has some circulation and is published independently of the state's control and ideology. Samizdat can be conditionally divided into two types: anti-state ideology literature (leaflets, newspapers, magazines, books, etc.) and personal household literature (letters, handwritten notebooks, questionnaires, etc.) (Myalo, Sokolov & Sverdlov, 1990, p. 4-5).

In this article, we will only consider the anti-government, anti-Soviet samizdat press. The reason is that the purpose of the study is to analyze the characteristics of the late Soviet-period Armenian samizdat and to present the discourses found in the latter covering the topics of constructing a national identity and anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations.

The research included self-published magazines “Inqnoroshum”, “Mashtots”, “Hayreniq”, “Hayots Khorhrdaran”, “Zangakatoun”, “Miabanutyun” and “Azat Hayq”, “Hayastan”, “Dashink”, “Hayq”, “Khosnak” and “Goyamart” newspapers. The discourse analysis method was used to analyze the collected material. In order to comprehend the phenomenon, I conducted interviews with publicists, journalists, and researchers Tigran Paskevichyan, Satenik Paramazyan, and Vardan Harutyunyan, who stand at the roots of the Armenian dissident press.

From a chronological point of view, 1989 was selected for the study. 1989 was chosen by the project as a historically significant year for Eastern Europe and in particular, for Germany, when Eastern and Western Germany reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, this year is unfairly less important for Armenian historiography. The main reason is that the most semantically and emotionally charged year for Armenia was 1988 when the Nagorno-Karabakh Movement escalated[1]. In those days Theater Square in Yerevan had become the center of political and public struggle, where protests of the Armenian people against the Soviet Union’s policy were expressed (Marutyan 2009).

The year of 1989, having mainly fallen out of focus is noteworthy due to a set of events that stood at the core of the construction of independent statehood. Moreover, within topical literature, 1989 is mentioned as the golden age of the Soviet samizdat press when approximately 500 to 1000 self-published newspapers and magazines came to light in the USSR, as stated in different sources (Myalo, Sokolov & Sverdlov, 1990, p. 17) (Strukova, 2005, p. 4).

The rise of the samizdat press was conditioned, first and foremost, by “glasnost” (openness) law (Strukova 2005, p. 9) which, to some extent, gave freedom not only to the official mass media (hereinafter media) of the country, but also to all the organizations and individuals who tried to impart alternative and pluralistic information in different ways. Before that, the entire media in the Soviet Union was administered by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Moscow kept permanent and total control over this realm (Rostova 2015). Many very different parts of the population actively responded to the idea of the freedom of speech, initiated from above by the highest-ranking bodies of party and state apparatus. As a result, a number of non-official organizations started emerging all throughout the Soviet Union, a part of which started publishing their own press (Non-governmental organizations in Armenia, 1989).

The next most important reason for the rise of the samizdat press in the late Soviet years was that the ideology of the Communist Party had receded from the reality reigning in the country (Yurchak, 2017). This circumstance contributed to the gradual formation of an extensive layer of dissident media outlets which existed in parallel with the official press and tried to present alternative news. In the majority of cases, the dissident press had a dialogue with the official press, that is, a challenge vs. response principle was a foundation of the logic seen in references regularly made in the samizdat: “We did not include Part One of the current article by S. Zavarean, a great Armenian national figure, inasmuch as it will be published in one of the official periodicals. The Editors” [the original citation is in Classical Armenian, ed.] (Mashtots, 1989). Therefore, the independent publications were a natural reaction of the non-conformist part of society to the entrenched totalitarian regime.

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[1] Still in 1987, protests took place in Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (hereinafter NKAO) and Soviet Armenia, claiming NKAO’s reunification with the Armenian SSR. On February 20, 1988, in a special session of the NKAO Council of People’s Deputies that took place in Stepanakert, a decision was adopted to apply to the Supreme Soviets of the Azerbaijani and Armenian SSRs with the request to reunite NKAO with the Armenian SSR, withdrawing it from the Azerbaijani SSR’s territory due to their intermediation. That very day protests in support of the Karabakh Armenians commenced in Yerevan. One of the most important characteristics of the Karabakh Movement was that it was a pan-national movement: for more than two years in a row several hundreds of thousands of people participated in demonstrations and marches (Marutyan, The main features of the Karabakh Movement or the Armenian Revolution, 2013).


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