October 2008


This is really elections year and we all enjoyed it. Actually when blogs and whole new media were blocked and censored first time in Caucasus in Armenia it was not, that fun. I have been told, soon after elections, that Armenian blogosphere even used Azeri blogs to get information and post them. They have got information from international media, posted via Azerbaijani blogs. That’s very interesting! Now president of Armenia signed a decree to start independent investigation on issue. Will it be independent? Will it analyze situation on Internet and blogs?

Government still uses censorship of diverse types: Even film about Armenian republic in the beginning of 20th century was censored, because there have been shown some truthful facts about Dashnaktsutyun party, which still in political arena.

Here is a quick link to The Economist map how world will vote on US presidential elections, if they can. You see all Caucasus in blue, 2-3 days ago Georgia were for McCain.

In Azerbaijan just before elections, Russian day.az stopped forum about political issues, which is still closed. In Georgia, government at last opened all .ru domains for general public. Now you can open it freely. But what officials have seen during ‘ban time’ is that, people used a lot of proxi servers to go and read, what Russians write about war, South Ossetia and Georgians.

Actually Georgia is the most interesting country due to underdevelopment of blogosphere there. Just before the war and after elections I had great talks with international group of possible new media activists, which just wanted to spend a lot of money for new media in Georgia. But realities shows, Georgia doesn’t have many bloggers. There are few blogs, even in blogosphere Armenia is bigger, than Georgia. Azerbaijan is the biggest. Why it is so?

Georgians, often talking about more openness of media for public, which influence to the numbers. But it could not be serious. Then USA or any other European country with media freedom should have fewer blogs, than, let say undemocratic countries, which is not true in reality.

So actual stuff, that I discovered after some months of research: in Armenia we see a lot of people, that got an idea of new media from Russia, because Armenia is under Russian influence and Armenians mostly speaks Russian, better than Georgians. Also there are a lot of Diaspora blogs in internet, which boost the numbers. Azerbaijani blogosphere is unique with South Azerbaijan blogs factor, created from Iran and possibilities to create bogs in own language. There are none of these factors in Georgia and first question you will hear is: what is a blog?

So we decided just o start answering this question for wide range of people, show them how to create and start writing in blog. I couldn’t say that it was satisfaction for ‘donors’, which just have money for ‘Georgian new media’, which doesn’t exist in reality. They do not want to spent them in 2 other countries (it is usual in other fields too). So they have big troubles. Nowadays new media in whole Caucasus needs development not only from grass roots, but also from traditional media. Keep these directions and you will be successful, which is very hard with censorship.

May be e-elections is our future, but e-Democracy is reality. Sometimes it is hard to live without it, when you is ‘democracy addict’. I will write about it tomorrow, just want to add some funny story from Staffan Danielson, parliamentary from Sweden, with whom I met here in Caucasus. We have been talking about security situation, wars, pipelines and Russian policy, democracy and Internet. He said, that just before his visit to Caucasus his email address were published in different web-pages regarding to popular issue. And he has got many thousands of emails. So Email address is blocked and he could not answer or reply. This what e-democracy sometimes causes. Per-to-per is good, but not effective always.

Last months in Caucasus has shown great interest in building local-language-networks. In Azerbaijan appeared some of them such as sirr.az, myxazar.com. kim.az (which belongs to the biggest mailing portal – box.az), dream.az, but only the last one tried to do some offline ad. Unsuccessfully, which did not increased number of users too much. Sirr.az, which is totally new, but more successfully, just started change inside and preparing for future ads. I have got some information about promotion campaign at the end of year, on the eve of new. But most successful for now is face.ge from Georgia, which belongs to Rate Solutions from Estonia. The also have project for Azerbaijan – birge.az, which also looks to be prepared till the end of the year.

But issues is how, they have succeded in Georgia. Giga Paitchadze, also blogger, known as a dv0rsky, just went to Rustavi2 (Rustavi Ori) TV channel and did advertisement at new time! Actually now he has some couple of thousand users. But this shows, that still in Caucasus we use media as a main stream promotion, PR, advertisement tool, even to get people into Internet. It should be like this sometimes, but marketing for net should be done mostly by net. So influence of new media is very low here. Actual stuff appearing last months could change this situation rapidly.

Sirr.az also preparing to go to Georgian market and help to take more people to networks, because it is very different from face.ge: has more social functionalities – blogs, groups, event and sharing possibilities. Main idea is to take NGOs to more social activities, through using Internet, which is totally new for South Caucasus.

We should admit, that still there is total monopoly of Facebook, Myspace, V Kontakte and Odnoklassniki. Hope it will change into national networks one day.  See Alexa‘s statistics:

Country/Place in Alexa

MySpace

Facebook.com

Vkontakte

Odnoklassniki

Azerbaijan

13

29

38

Georgia

43

54

88

1

Armenia

15

5

28

1

My previous post have been read by 60 people, so this inspired me after all to continue. Also there is real effect on it, when one of ‘bad guys’ founded in army hospital in Alyat town and there could be more. So thanks to new media some changes in Azerbaijani army could be seen y everybody. Actual stuff is out of here, when according to some agencies, Ministry of Defense prohibited use of phones with cameras (so, not all of them). Is it strange for you?

I hope, Internet connection in Caucasus countries will be more cheaper and it will allow people to watch the videos and podcasts. But for now we do have some awkvard prices, which probably may change soon. Caucasus Online, which is in reality monopolist in Georgia, did better job to provide specail fiber-optic line under Black Sea to Bulgaria. It make sense, when you have direct line to Southern Europe. But in a recent war and Russian army bombed line in Gori, which after rebuilding will be the best solution. Now Georgia get 78% of its Internet from Azerbaijan’s Delta Telecom, which is also monopolists (and bigger) and actually get all Internet from Russia (via Scandinavian countries).

Mobile Internet area were better in mobile Internet via 3G, which is still is not allowed in Azerbaijan. But Armenia just started with WiMAX, which is much better.

The biggest operator “ComStar Tele-Systems” of Russia and CIS countries and “Cornet-AM” CSJC “Comstar-Tele-Systems” Daughter Company will start its service in Armenia, which will invest WIMax technologies

So everybody who use Internet, will be able use it even from the car.

Actually Comstar is under Systema Group of companies, which is very close to Putin’s goverment. So Russia took this sphere of business in Armenia too. At the same time nearly 18 towns there connected to WiMAX. Russia itself will start with WiMAX at the end of year. There is also information, that Azerbaijan planning with it in March 2009, presumable under same Delta Telecoms umbrella.

So here is a poll, you can vote:

Starting this blog wan in my mind from the late spring, but projects just started and I was full of job. Now, when new media is started to develop and even global financial crisis (feeled here in Caucasus too) could not stop it – I am begining. The second issue, influence me – is the real increasing in the role of new media for civil society.

Th issue, that YouTube is popular in here appearing now, when we see use of this new media tool for real citizen activities. In the beginning of the month there appeared a video on violence in army. Spokesman for Ministry of Defense were fast to react, that it is not real: ‘This video tape is a “good” play. It seems that by wearing the military uniform and recording this on the cell phone, someone tried to create a material about violence in the army.’ Actually he was right. But this event of using new media for social change is worked and Ministry of Defense started wide investigation. As a result of that, they found no such people, which appeared in video, in this governmental structure. But today it is found, that this video was real and people in there were not actors, but soldiers from … Internal Force. So 2 guys arrested, 2 fired.

Talking is good, but showing is better. We see real changes and possible to influence for social change through new media. Actual stuff is here to help officials to find the ‘pain points’ and resolve them.

Now we have one more result of this investigation. Azerbaycan.Tv and Youtube published new video about violence in army (which happens in one of the hospitals). Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence said, that they have started new investigation. May be this time they will find something inside. You can see new video here too.

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