Late Sunday evening, officials at Horizon television received a call from Armenian Consulate staff informing them that a scheduled press meeting with President Sarkisian on Monday was canceled. Moments later, another phone call confirmed that, in fact, a briefing with the press would take place but instead of the president, his chief of staff, Vigen Sargsyan would address reporters’ questions.
Only three television channels—Horizon TV, H1 and USA Armenia—were invited to take part in the exclusive television discussion with the president. It never took place.
Instead reporters were treated to a haphazardly organized meeting at the Beverly Hilton. Upon their arrival, the reporters were seated in a room awaiting Sargsyan. Moments later, the journalists were informed that there would be a change of venue, eventually settling in at the lobby of the hotel for an “informal” question and answer.
The entire Diaspora tour has been carefully crafted to exclude the press. Despite curtailing participation of the more than 20 or so news outlets in Los Angeles, we were encouraged and were anticipating the television discussion with the president. However, the abrupt cancellation and reformatting of the event signaled a blatant and reckless disregard toward the press. This approach has been the hallmark of the Sarkisian administration from the onset of the protocol process, if not earlier.
In Armenia, the voices of dissent toward the protocols are also not being heard, as the mainly state-run media, with the widest reach across the country, is misinforming the public on the extent of opposition to the protocols.
This recent admonition of the media goes to strengthen the argument that the much-hailed Diaspora tour—“pan Armenian tour”—is nothing but a choreographed publicity stunt to avail the president of his responsibility to include the Diaspora in this critically important national issue.
The public outrage and disapproval of the protocols has been quite evident thus far on the Diaspora tour. Protesters in France were violently beaten by police, providing fodder for the Turkish media, which immediately labeled the protesters as unruly.
If the president’s aim was to elevate his and the Armenian people’s image he has failed miserably because not only has he alienated the Diaspora, he has also created the image of a nation divided. Sarkisian’s callous approach to this matter also paved the way for Turkish president Abdullah Gul to wag his finger and say that if the Diaspora were truly concerned about the Armenia’s future it would support the protocols and encourage peace in the Caucasus.
The president and his apparatus can rest assured that despite their meticulous efforts to shut out the press, we remained vigilant to our mission and provided the most in-depth coverage of his visit, not only from the protest but also from within the community meeting with constant updates on Twitter and Facebook. We did, however, exercise our right to not cover the gala banquet honoring the president, deeming the event tactless and insulting.
It has become increasingly clear to our audience that the key figure in this charade, namely president Sarkisian, has been missing in action. His refusal to appear in public or address the press shows a level of cowardice that further increases the inherent risks of the entire protocol process.