“One Armenian, One Article”: How Wikipedia is Preserving the Roots of a Diaspora Nation

by mayukh sen

Can Wikipedia function as a tool for preserving cultural heritage? In a bid to boost patriotic morale, the creators of Armenia’s recent “One Armenian, One Article” campaign are encouraging every Armenian to author an article on Armenian Wikipedia. The Armenian-language Wikipedia launched in 2003 and had something of a rocky start, gaining groundswell later in the decade as more Armenians secured access to cheaper and faster Internet access. The editing campaign began in March, when Wikimedia Armenia coupled with Armenian talk show Human Factor to mobilize a year-long process that’s slated to end in March 2015. A number of educational and civil society organizations have arranged “Wiki-meetings” to help guide netizens less familiar with Wikipedia’s interface toward making meaningful contributions to the site.

The campaign’s stated mission is to allow Armenians across the world to “enrich” Wikipedia as a repository of information for Armenians, increasing both Armenian user involvement and greater Armenian-language content. Some of the country’s rich cultural heritage is at grave risk. As The Guardian notes, for example, UNESCO recognizes the western dialect of the Armenian language as endangered. In this light, the campaign functions a form of resistance to this erosion. That said, the campaign may also be a bid for Armenia to outstrip its neighboring countries in terms of online performance. Armenian Wikipedia has – for now – 390,000 pages, scores more than those of neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The original video for the campaign that began 4 months ago on YouTube; via Nver Ghazaryan.

Government officials and popular public figures have expressed vocal support for the campaign, yet the campaign may have problems on a pragmatic level. Many in the Armenian diaspora simply don’t read or write the Armenian language as deftly as they speak it, and there are stark differences between the written eastern and western dialects. This lack of standardization makes it difficult for the sizable diaspora population of about 8 million – which far outnumbers the country’s population of 3 million – to contribute actively to these efforts.

As Victoria Turk of VICE’s Motherboard observes, the campaign has also reopened historical wounds affecting global Armenian populations. To some Armenians living abroad, Armenia is really a “diaspora nation” – a community of people, bound by ethnic ties, who have traversed the globe to escape such traumatic events as the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Nearly a hundred years later, discussions of genocide are still rife with tensions, misunderstandings, and conflicting memories that play out on sites like Wikipedia, where users can easily edit content to their liking. One netizen, Raffi Kojian, has even started his own Armeniapedia.org to counter those—such as the Turkish state—who deny that the Armenian genocide happened at all. He cites his many experiences editing pages on topics related to the genocide that were quickly revised by anonymous Azeri and Turkish netizens. To Wikimedia UK’s Stevie Benton, experiences like those of Kojian point to Wikipedia’s difficult balancing act – whether the many, often contesting viewpoints of Wikipedia users can be reconciled to create a sense of neutrality.