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Once known as the Silicon Valley of Soviet Union, Armenia now is far from being a leader in terms of internet usage and online content creation. According to recent governmental figures, about 50% percent of Armenia's population of 3 million has access to the Internet, many of them via mobile phones. The monopoly on the provision of international internet access for voice and data transmission was finally removed in late 2006 and only over the last 5-6 years has Armenia been enjoying a diversity of services and rapid decrease in prices.
In 2000 the number of Internet users in the country did not exceed 30.000 (0.1%), and in 2006 only 5.5% of the Armenia’s population had access to Internet, while according to figures from 2010, about half of the country uses Internet . Automatically this had a positive impact on the quantity and quality of Armenian-language websites and online Armenian content in general. The history of the Armenian Wikipedia proves that the Armenian wiki community also started growing after 2006 even though the first user was registered in January 2003. Armenian Wikipedia is a small but vibrant community, with about 380 registered Wikipedians (including 6 admins) and 15000 articles, with its specific characteristics, problems and achievements.
The Beginning (2003 – 2006)
In January 2003 Վիքիփեդիա – the Armenian Wikipedia had its first registered user: Lilith. Lilit Mkrtchyan, writer and translator in real life, discovered there was an opportunity for developing an Armenian version of the global online encyclopedia - Wikipedia. “At that time I was using English Wikipedia, but I didn't know it could be in other languages as well. When I found the standard page for Վիքիփեդիա I was over the moon”, Lilit says.
Immediately Lilit shared the new discovery with her 14-year-old son, who registered as Toxic. As Lilit describes, at the beginning it was like a gaming addiction: she couldn’t do anything else but play around with Wikipedia and test the platform. However, the testing took about 2 years and it was only in March 2005 that mom and son created the Main page , translated the first guidelines and wrote the first articles (on culinary and graffiti ). These very first articles are still incomplete: they lack references and sources. It’s obvious the authors were just experimenting and trying to fill the empty space dedicated to the Armenian Wikipedia.
Lilit says that from the beginning she sent emails to different Armenian organizations (about 500) informing them about the existence of the Armenian Wikipedia and inviting them to join her. She didn’t hear back from anyone but soon the community started growing and a few more people showed up (Սահակ, Կարեն, Ռուբեն and a few non-registered users). During the year 2005 they created about 280 articles.
In July 2006 there were already 13 contributors and 1300 articles. It felt more like a community: people would discuss issues, help each other with editing and share a common goal – to develop the Armenian Wikipedia. Of course, the removal of the monopoly in the sphere of Internet services played an important role in the development of Armenian Wikipedia. However, many of the Armenian Wikipedians do not live in Armenia and access to internet was never a problem for them (over 8 million Armenians live in the diaspora, with large communities in the USA & Russia).
Սահակ (Sahak) is a scientist currently based in New York; he joined Lilit in early 2005 when he was still in the university.
“I was studying in the USA and of course, I was missing my language and my home environment. Using the Armenian alphabet on the Internet was a big issue at that time but I was a member of Akumb.am forum where all of us were writing in Armenian letters. And one of the topics we were discussing was the language issue on the Net. Here I learned about the possibility to promote the language by contributing to Armenian Wikipedia”.
Sahak, who was already writing for English Wikipedia, switched to the Armenian version. “It’s a hobby for me first of all, and a way to practic Armenian living far from my country. Of course, it’s important to have encyclopedic content in Armenian language on the Net but I do it for myself on the first instance”, Sahak explains.
Akumb.am , the only Armenian language forum was the right environment for spreading the word about Վիքիփեդիա and in fact many active contributors came to Wikipedia from this online forum.
Becoming a community (2006-2011)
Since 2006 the number of users and articles in Armenian Wikipedia has been increasing every month. The Wikipedians have been writing about their hobbies and interests, while at the same time keeping articles about Armenia, its culture and history at the centre of their attention. The founders and the first sysops of Վիքիփեդիա, Lilith and Toxic, had temporarily left the community, but new dedicated users and admins continued the job.
However, the new wave of users came only in 2009 and, interestingly, during the last 2 years twice as many articles have been created as before 2009. Among other things, an important factor was the involvement of Pandukht (a student living in Moscow) and Ashot Gabrielyan (a specialist in Armenian literature who lives in Yerevan). Both were keen to increase the number of articles, and they have the largest number of contributions in Armenian Wikipedia up to date.
Besides, there was a general awakening in Armenia’s internet life. 2008 signaled a new wave in internet activism in Armenia. It was the year of presidential elections, and tensions between authorities and oppositions escalated into continuous demonstrations, riots and even the death of 10 people, which was followed by a state of emergency in the capital city. During the 10-day state of emergency, any news except official announcements was banned. While mass media kept silent, the Internet community took the lead: blogs, Facebook pages, mailing lists became the main sources of information, even for those who never used Internet media before. This boosted the overall usage of the Internet.
Of course, the increasing diversity of internet and mobile services and decreasing prices played their role too.
So, taking into consideration all these matters, we can possibly find an explanation for the positive change in the process of development of Armenian Wikipedia.
2009 was special for Վիքիփեդիա in one more aspect: for the first time Armenian Wikipedians met. Sahak, who lives in New York was visiting Armenia and came up with the idea of offline meeting. “I’m glad I met those people. I think it gave us a sense of community, strengthened the collaboration and people became friends”, he says. In fact, some of the Wikipedians are really good friends now, they meet frequently and some of them even recently visited Tatul, an active Wikipedian who is currently serving in the army. As Rob notes, even though he doesn’t have close friends among Wikipedians, it’s good to put faces on usernames and to know your online community in person.
Any Wikipedia language community cannot be considered a community in the traditional anthropological sense. Community is usually associated with a geographical locality and often assumes blood ties and kinship. With the emergence of online forums and groups terms like “virtual community”, “online networks”, “community of interest” came into use and into academic scholarship. But according to some anthropologists, to be a community a group must have a story that everyone can relate to and feel part of (Arnett,R, “Communication and community: implications of Martin Buber's dialogue” 1986). Also the term “community of interest” suits those online networks that share a passion, belief and a story. If we leave aside the geography, then the idea of online community can bring us back to Durkheim’s anthropological concept of “moral community of belief”. In such virtual communities, trust is based not so much on experience but on ethical norms and “good faith,” which is so specific to the Wikipedia environment.
However, most of the Wikipedians I’ve met agree that the feeling of community and the sense of togetherness, trust and unity strengthened after the face to face meetings.
As Teak, one of the long-time users and admins defines, “there is a courteous collaboration within the project. I would define the community as a joint 'co-ownership' of the project”.
“It really helps that we know each other in person”, Vazgen says. “When online you don’t know how the person reacts to your comment and what expression he/she has when typing the answer, especially when there is a hot debate. But when we met I saw that they are all good people.” He remembers that during the whole meeting Pandukht and Chaojoker were arguing how to write the abbreviation BMW or the names of Michael Jackson’s albums in Armenian correctly. But it was a friendly discussion and no one crossed the line. Similar online discourses might have unpredicted endings and some people might even leave the community demonstratively: it’s far more difficult to find common ground without looking into each other’s eyes.
This kind of meetings became a tradition. This year in February Wikipedians gathered again to celebrate Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary with a symbolic cake.
Policy and Guidelines
The recent Wiki Hackathon was another very good occasion for a gathering. For the first time on April 3 of this year, a 1-day Hackathon was organized: Wikipedians and their friends came together in one place to translate Wikipedia policies and guidelines. About 50 people gathered and 17 guidelines were translated during the day. Even though the organizers say that very few people returned to Wikipedia after the hackathon, the statistics show that in May 2011, 34 new users registered accounts, which was unprecedented for Վիքիփեդիա . This was an important step for the Armenian community, especially if we note that the Hackathon was the first major event organized by a few interested external parties – such as educational-humanitarian foundations, software developing firms, IT NGOs – and, of course, the Wikipedia community.
However, the list of guidelines that needs to be translated is still on the Hackathon’s wiki page. There is a lot to do.
“You can’t just translate the English policy and guidelines. Every language community should make changes and modifications in the rules to suit their needs. So it’s an important work that requires time”, Xelgen says.
Vacio thinks that the lack of guidelines is one of the causes of conflicts within the community. Newcomers especially need them. But many Wikipedians believe that there is no need for more rules.
“You learn as you try. That’s how I did. You can ask people for advice, discuss the issue on the Խորհրդարան (Parliament) page, or if you see a mistake correct it and explain… Besides, you can always check with English or Russian versions for comparisons and guidelines”, Rob says.
Sahak who has experience both in Armenian and English Wikipedias says that rules are needed when the community is well established and large enough: that’s how it worked in English Wikipedia. For him Armenian Wikipedia still has a long way to go and there is no need for extra limitations.
For now Armenians use the Armenian version of the Five Pillars as a basis for their policy, along with a number of translated and modified guidelines. However most of the conflicting situations are solved by reaching a consensus through discussions.
Disputes and resolutions
“Conflicts? Well, those are just childish talks compared to disputes say in English Wikipedia,” says Sahak, who used to write for English Wikipedia before joining the Armenian community. He insists that Armenian community is small and they usually do not have hot debates.
Խորհրդարան (Parliament) is the main arena for discussing major issues and reaching a consensus. Of course, during the offline meetings the Wikipedians can’t avoid talking about those issues too, but they never make decisions offline; Wikipedia is the only platform that every member of the community has access to and can have a say in. Chaojoker reflects that, once, they had a discussion on IRC about Wikisources, but afterwards the whole text was published on Wiki with the links to the original discussion.
The community’s 6 sysops usually lead the discussions, but they say they do not have privileges to make decisions: every user has equal rights. In fact, being an admin has more downsides than advantages for them. As Xelgen notes, admin’s duties do not leave much time for content creation and contribution. First thing he does on Wikipedia is checking the new edits, making corrections and doing other standard responsibilities. And conflicts in particular take up a lot of his time.
The discussions about major conflicts can be found on Խորհրդարան, different Discussion pages and User Talk pages. Lilit, the first registered Armenian Wikipedian was in the centre of many of those talks. After taking a break in 2005, Lilit came back to Wikipedia in 2010 with a new account - Lilit Gabyan. But she didn’t like the new Wikipedia, which had grown and now had established rules and traditions that she couldn’t cope with.
One of Lilit's methods was to create empty pages for forthcoming articles or stubs for further contributions. “I was even leaving notes in those articles asking people to continue what I have started. These were just structures for future articles and I think it was a good way to go about editing Armenian Wikipedia. But they didn’t agree with me and kept deleting. I haven’t checked my account recently, and I am not sure if they have deleted some of my other articles or not”, Lilit complains.
The new sysops and community members didn’t like this method. “We don’t work on quantity but on quality, we don’t need empty articles which are misleading for the readers,” is their approach.
Lilit’s new account was soon blocked for a few days. Chaojoker, one of the admins, explains that Lilit was very rude in discussions; also she continued creating empty articles and copy-pasted ones.
“We were discussing copyright issues on Խորհրդարան, and on the first day she came back Lilit wrote a long note on the discussion page. All she was saying was – stop bothering people with rules and principles. The tone of her posting was very rude. And this was not the only time,” Chaojoker explains.
After the Lilit Gabyan account was blocked, Lilit started using her old one – Lilith. The admins saw this as sock puppetry and Chaojoker blocked the Lilith account indefinitely.
Lilit’s second account is now active, but she says she is very busy now, and besides, she doesn’t really like the new Wikipedia environment.
“There are a few people in Armenian Wikipedia that are very active now and they came to believe that it’s their own domain, they feel huge responsibility for Wikipedia, even act as the owners of Wikipedia. I understand, they are mostly young ambitious people who value the work they do too much and want to impose their rules on everyone”, Lilit concludes.
Copyright is an important issue for Վիքիփեդիա; no one can copy-paste texts to Wikipedia. But what is a copy-paste and when do the contributors need to worry about the author's rights? Ashot Gabrielyan had a major conflict with the community on this matter as a result of which he left Wikipedia and started his own project-Litopedia.org.
Ashot Gabrielyan joined Armenian wikipedia in 2009. He was working as a journalist, writing a cultural and literary column for a daily paper. And whenever he was short of topics he used to do Internet research or just Google the date to find ideas: usually he would find memorable events or birthdays for the date and write about that.
“I saw that not all the important birthdays are registered in Wikipedia and started adding them. This is how I started.” Ashot is a specialist in Armenian language and literature, he works at the Institute of Literature. “I am aware of all the major events, tendencies, books published in the country and I know what I am writing about. It is vital to have all this information online in this day and age and, of course, we need this information in the Armenian language. Language is important. People might know several languages but it’s totally different when people read information in their mother language,” he says.
Ashot suggested a way to develop Armenian Wikipedia quicker: he wanted to copy some encyclopedic texts that do not cause copyright issues. He explains that he has discussed the issue with lawyers and they confirmed that such texts are considered public domain. “If we copy a few sentences from an ecyclopedia, say about an animal, is it an intellectual property? It’s not about someone’s ideas, it’s about facts. But the community rejected my method. Shame… We could add over 10.000 articles per year in this way,” Ashot says.
After the “battles” with the sysops on copyright issues, Ashot Gabrielyan started his own separate wiki project – Litopedia.org. He writes about books, authors, and language. There are over 700 articles in Litopedia, which Ashot has been working on since January 2011. He keeps Litopedia closed for other contributors, because people make a lot of mistakes. He says he’d rather do it all by himself. He is the only author and authority at Litopedia.org.
Another issue that Ashot had with the Wikipedia community was the question of the value and notability of the topic. Ashot used to write about some new books published in the country and the sysops would question the notability of the book and the sources.
“I am a specialist, I know if the book is valuable or not. And sources - well, the book is already a source itself, I can cite the book in question, can’t I?” Ashot argues.
Beko (a 50-year old male) is one of the sysops who is particularly attentive to propaganda, advertising and notability questions on Wikipedia. “If someone writes an article about a small cafe and gives the menu and contact details, isn’t it an ad? I will certainly delete the article. I do this only when I am 100% sure”, Beko explains. As for the books, he insists that they should be referenced somewhere or reviewed by press.
Beko thinks there were no major conflict within the community, it’s just discussions. And these discussions generally have a very polite tone and constructive approach.
Conflicts outside the community: Armenian Wikipedians on other wikis
In fact, Armenians face more serious obstacles and get into greater conflicts in other language Wikipedias. Having problems with 2 of their geographical neighbors - Turkey and Azerbaijan – Armenians often get into trouble when it comes to the history and culture of the region.
Vacio remembers that when he first started writing in English Wikipedia, he got into major conflicts. Vacio’s father participated in the war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in 1992-1994. After realizing that he doesn’t really know much about the conflict, Vacio decided to do some research and write articles on this topic for Wikipedia. He also came to think that citing Armenian authors in Wikipedia is not a good idea, as Azeris do the same and then both sides blame each other for being subjective. So Vacio started reading Western papers and as he says, wrote more balanced articles.
“Of course, especially in the beginning I found myself in the centre of hot Armenian-Azeri debates. As I was new and didn’t know the rules I was provoked to make some edits which were later corrected by admins and stuarts and I got warnings,” Vacio reflects.
The same happened to 517Design, Sedrak, who is a photojournalist in real life and an active blogger. Sedrak used to write on Armenian topics in English Wikipeda; for him this was a way to explore some themes that he was interested in and to promote Armenia, its history and geography in the world. But it didn’t quite work for him.
“Anti Armenian propaganda is very strong in Wikipedia. Azerbaijanis and Turks have stronger and larger presence than us and whenever you write something there is a group of Azeris who will immediately revert or delete the contribution,” he complains. Sedrak says he was blocked a few times because he didn’t know all the rules, while his opponents were more familiar with Wikipedia policy and guidelines and could easily put him into difficult situations.
Now Sedrak has his own encyclopedia built on the wiki platform – Orientica.net . It’s an encyclopedia about the Middle East, Armenian Highland and the neighbouring regions. Here he writes about the history of countries, memorable events, people and whatever he finds important or interesting. This is his space where he decides what to write and how. As Sedrak explains, he does not waste time on arguments and just does his research.
This approach has other supporters as well. Karen Vrtanesyan, known in Armenian blogosphere as Ahousekeeper suggests that having our own platform will work better than spending time on Wikipedia. “Armenian Wikipedia is still underdeveloped and not large enough so why not leave it and create our own resource that we can control and monitor,” he argues.
But openness and the collaborative spirit are what Wikipedians value and love about this online environment; here the wisdom of the masses is the only authority.
Language is one of the most disputed issues in Armenian Wikipedia. At the same time, the language issue is a decisive factor in the development of the community. In fact, it is both an obstacle and an important incentive for the development of Internet in general.
Xelgen is one of the 6 admins. A software developer in real life, Xelgen is active in promoting not only Armenian Wikipedia but the Armenian language on the internet in general. He believes that paper is no longer the main medium for language; it’s digital technologies, and the language we use on tablets, computer, and cell phone largely affects the way we think.
Xelgen (Aleksey Chalabyan), thinks that Armenian Wikipedia is a great platform for storing knowledge in the local language and giving everyone access to that knowledge. He is concerned that even in Armenia many people prefer sharing information in Russian or English, or they use Latin letters when writing in Armenian. This has technical, cultural and social reasons of course.
Users of older computers had to install Armenian fonts and software for writing in their local language, while now Armenian is included in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Armenian governmental bodies and media have just recently switched to the Unicode system, which is readable from all parts of the world. However, it’s still difficult to read and write Armenian from different mobile platforms such as Android. Xelgen and other activists are voluntarily programming softwares to solve the issue. Khachik Gevorgyan, the head of ARMACAD, the Armenian academic network, and a supporter of Armenian Wikipedia, started a real battle against those using Latin alphabet by just deleting them from his Facebook friendlist. “Write English or Russian, but if you are writing in Armenian use Armenian letters. It’s not a big deal, people just need a little bit of practice," he says.
Apart from technical difficulties, there is also the question of audience. Armenian is the only official language in Armenia, but from Soviet times Russian had a privilege as a second language and is still very popular. And now the use of English is also quite common, especially among the youth. If the vast majority of Armenians read English or Russian, and the Armenian speaking audience is understandably limited, why bother having Armenian language content or websites? Many companies who target both the locals and foreigners have just English or Russian online pages to save money. Some of the famous bloggers, too, prefer writing in English or Russian to reach a wider audience.
Aleksey and his friends are concerned with these tendencies and they feel that promoting Armenian Wikipedia will help people feel more comfortable reading and writing in their local language on the Internet.
“Well, of course there is a huge amount of information in English, Russian and other languages that most Armenians can access. But then there were Greek and Assyrian alphabets in the 4-5th centuries and our ancestries could think the same and not bother creating Armenian letters. If we do not pay attention to online language policies and the improvement of Armenian content we can easily lose the language,” says Rob, a historian.
Chaojoker is the most conservative community member when it comes to the language issue. Chaojoker is originally from Iran, where Armenians have been living for centuries, maintaining their identity and language. While under Soviet authority, Armenia adopted many Russian words, but Iranian-Armenians have retained the purity of the language.
“Sometimes even my parents do not understand what’s on TV, people in Armenia do not speak proper Armenian. And if it goes like this we will lose the language entirely,” Chaojoker worries.
It’s especially problematic to translate new technological terms like “browser”, “interface”, “smartphone”, “tablet computer” etc. While the general public and press use the foreign words, Chaojoker and her friends fight for the Armenization of all terms: moreover, they think Wikipedia is the platform to promote the new Armenian translations. So, sometimes, they just make up new words or use translations suggested by others, as it happened with smartphone. “Խելախոս”, a new Armenian word was once suggested for “smartphone” by Ruben Tarumyan (the author of popular Armenian fonts), which some of the Wikipedians liked and started using.
“Well, if everyone calls it smartphone, why call the article about smartphones “խելախոս”? It’s a translation suggested by an individual and not used by people. Even when you Google the word it’ll bring just a few results, while smartphone or “սմարթֆոն” (the same in Armenian letters) is much more common. So, what’s the point of enforcing these new Armenian words that do not even sound nice?” Vacio argues.
The problem is that there is no committee in Armenia responsible for new translations, so people do it spontaneously. And some, like Chaojoker feel the responsibility of doing the committee’s job.
“All the new translations sound weird at the beginning. So what? We need to promote those words and give people time to get used to them. This is how we enrich our vocabulary," Chaojoker argues back.
During our meeting Xelgen, Chaojoker, Beko and Rob were discussing the translation of words such as “fellowship” versus “scholarship,” “state” versus “region” versus “province” to find the right Armenian words for certain articles: none of them is a linguist, but getting the translation right is a priority for them all.
The dominance of English on the Internet is a major issue for many nations, even for big ones. For small nations like Armenia, it is a matter of national identity, and they take the language issue very seriously. Armenians, who are very proud of their rich and unique language and 1600-year-old alphabet, consider Armenization of the Internet a key mission, and developing Armenian Wikipedia is a big part of this battle.
Why do Armenians edit Wikipedia?
So why do people need to spend time editing articles and adding new content to the global encyclopedia?
There are 2 main approaches - 1) Wikipedia is a great hobby where people develop personal interests, 2) Wikipedia is an important tool for the promotion of Armenian content.
For people like SusannaMkr and Ashot Gabrielyan, Wikipedia has a national value first and foremost. They see it as a tool to improve knowledge in the country: it is a fantastic resource and knowledge base, as well as a collaboration tool that can be used not only as an encyclopedia. But most of the active members of the community see what they do as a pleasure rather than a duty.
For Beko it is a way to pass the time – “Some people spend time in front of the TV. I come home after work, and Wikipedia is the way to relax, spend time, and interact with people. I do not watch TV.”
Rob (Robert) is a historian with a keen interest in classical music. “Well, I noticed that some of the great composers were not included in the Armenian Wikipedia and started writing about them. I mainly translate from English or Russian Wikipedias, but if I can’t find sufficient information on the topic within the online encyclopedia I do my own research,” he explains.
For a number of diasporan-contributors such as Teak, Vazgen, Pandukht and even some locals - Xelgen, Chaojoker, Armenian Wikipedia has become a place to practice and improve their mother tongue. Xelgen, for example, used to go to a Russian school in Armenia and says his Armenian was poor when he started writing for Wikipedia. Still, he sometimes needs proofreading and advice on the language issues, but the difference is obvious.
“Yes, it is great to have Armenian Wikipedia and give people access to Armenian language content, but this cannot be a motivation for new editors. People should see Wikipedia as fun, a game, something they enjoy and get some personal satisfaction from. For me it’s like fishing, it’s a pleasure. This is the point we need to make when talking about Wikipedia,” Vacio insists.
However, from all the interviews I’ve conducted, it is evident that almost all the contributors spend less and less time on Wikipedia. They insist that it’s because of life circumstances rather than loss of interest. Most of them begin editing as students, when they had more time for personal hobbies, and when they find a job or start a family they compromise on time spent on Wikipedia. Even the admins admit they spend a maximum of a couple of hours a day, some of them - a few hours a week, while when they started used to do much more.
Plans and recent developments
Despite the efforts of the community Վիքիփեդիա is growing slowly. Even when you compare it with other small language communities or neighbouring countries, the picture is not very optimistic.
Of course, it’s easy to blame everything on technical problems. But some think that there is a deeper issue - voluntarism is not very common in Armenia in general. Doing something for free is a strange concept to many post-Soviet countries, especially those with difficult economic situation.
You can’t even become famous on Wikipedia, as it is generally anonymous and the articles do not have authors. So for many people there is no visible benefit in spending time on Wikipedia. This is an explanation given by some of the Wikipedians who, however, don’t allow the possibility of motivating people by paying. “That’s against the rules, and the worst thing that can happen. It will ruin the philosophy and the whole concept of Wikipedia,” they say.
However, a simple poll on Facebook proved that lack of information is the first and most vital obstacle for the development of Վիքիփեդիա. Xelgen asked a question to his Facebook friends - “Why don't you contribute to Վիքիփեդիա?”. About 200 people responded. Yes, there were answers like “I don't care” or “ I do not have time," but the most common answer was “I never thought of that." This was very interesting and in fact, not surprising, because in Armenia Wikipedia is seen a resource ready to use - people go there to find information, to consume rather than to contribute. And even if they know Wikipedia is something created by people, they mostly do not consider the possibility of contributing themselves.
The Wikipedians had several seminars and conferences trying to promote the platform, but it didn’t really get to the masses.
How to solve the problem? If people do not come to Wikipedia it needs to go to people. This is the approach of those activists and NGOs who have decided to take Wikipedia to schools and universities, to media and to housewives. And this year they have decided to get it right and fix the problem once and for all.
The movement was particularly encouraged by Richard Stallman, who visited Armenia at the beginning of this year. The Web2.0 activist shared his enthusiasm about open, interactive and collaborative online platforms and suggested, “Why not have another look at Wikipedia?”
Armine, who works for the educational NGO “Instigate” says that Stallman’s enthusiasm was contagious and, soon after his visit, she and her colleagues registered on Wikipedia, tried and loved it. They thought this was something particularly useful for children and students, and they announced the start of the “Wikipedia: School and University - Armenia” project that now unifies 6 organizations and groups, including the Wikipedia community. Wikipedia hackathon was the first major project organized by this coalition.
Apart from that, they visited a few schools: not all of the school headmasters greeted them with enthusiasm, but some were really open to innovations. As the summer holidays end, they plan to renew the conversation and get real results.
A few months ago The State University of Economics held a “1% of Knowledge for Generations” event: 20 students added 140 articles on environmental issues to Armenian Wikipedia. The organizers promised to keep this tradition alive.
15-year-old Mariam is the head of the student council at the Anania Shirakatsi National Lycee that Wikipedians visited in spring. She has asked some of the active Wikipedians to teach the students the basics of editing and the main principles of the Armenian Wiki community. Mariam says that every student in the Lycee writes over 10 essays during the school year that can be suitable for the online encyclopedia. Besides, she thinks that wiki platform can be a good place for developing and editing the articles in collaboration with classmates and teachers.
“What can be more attractive for children than the feeling that their work will be available and useful for millions of people. This will also make them more responsible and motivated," says Armine. She believes that the sense of collaboration is ideal for classrooms and hopes that more schools will adopt the tool.
The idea has been proposed to the Ministry of Education as well. The reaction was positive, but so far it hasn’t gone any further.
However, according to Panorama.am news website, the minister Armen Ashotyan said, “We need to increase the number of Armenian articles on Wikipedia as we are far behind our neighbours – Azerbaijan and Georgia. We need to encourage the contributions to Վիքիփեդիա." Moreover, Ashotyan promised that the ministry will also add articles.
Besides the School and University project, another Wikipedian - SusikMkr (Susanna Mkrtchyan), has started a process for establishing a Wikimedia Chapter in Armenia. “The community will not grow without a proper organization,” she says.
Susanna works at the Science Management Department of the National Science Academy Computing Institute of Armenia. Discovering Armenian Wikipedia, she was astonished to find the right tool for promoting science and knowledge but disappointed with the current situation. She registered as a Wikipedia contributor last December. Since then she has been reading the policies and studying the experience of other countries trying to find ways for developing Wikipedia.
In August she took part in the WikiMania 2011 conference in Haifa and gave a presentation about the situation in Armenia, with suggestions on how to change it. Now she says she is in touch with the Wikimedia Foundation and has their full support to realize her plan, i. e. to increase the number of contributors and articles, and establish a chapter for coordinating the job.
She says she already has the support of the Science Academy: they will provide a room and most likely some computers for the workshop and training. Also, the Academy is happy to help with the content.
“We have lots of great minds, scientists who are retired and do not know how to keep themselves busy. We also have high rates of unemployment in the country, so there are a lot of people who have the knowledge but don’t know how to share it. They do not know about Wikipedia. We need to inform and train people,” Susanna insists. She has already had publications in the press and interviews on broadcast media about her ideas.
She is up for more practical approaches: schools should incorporate Wikipedia in the curriculum, universities should take responsibility for enriching the encyclopedia with X number of articles per month, including policy translations. Also, there might be competitions for Wikipedia articles to encourage children to start contributing.
The veteran Wikipedians, however, are a bit skeptical about these plans. Being guards of Wikipedia traditions and rules, they strongly believe in “good faith,” “openness,” and "voluntarism” of Wikipedia. If there is any chance that anyone will be paid or forced to contribute to Wikipedia, the community will resist.
Susanna promises not to break the rules and to discuss every step with the community and the Foundation, but one thing is clear for her: she feels the need to do something about the situation. For her Wikipedia is not just a tool but a philosophy that can be used in all spheres of cultural, social and academic life. 10 years after the creation of Wikipedia, Armenians want to give it another try and really make use of it.
When we Google something and a Wikipedia link comes up as the first result, in most cases we can find adequate and objective information in the article. We might check the sources, follow the links at the end of the article, but we'll unlikely go to the Article History or Discussion page to check the authors and the story of the article. Every article has a story on Wikipedia and every story has its characters, but these are real people with their own interests and problems.
The Armenian Wikipedia community is small - just 380 registered users, 38 of whom are hardly very active. But this small group of people has its own shared story, which unites them all. At the same time the members of the community are very different, with their very different life stories. There are students who have some free time and spend it promoting their language, young people living abroad who find a very familiar and dear environment on Wikipedia, middle-age professionals and scientists for whom Wikipedia is a hobby, or those who see the potential of the Wikipedia platform and philosophy...
Together, they have created about 15,000 articles on Wikipedia and hundreds on other Wikimedia projects such as Wikiquotes, Wikisources, Wikibooks... Beko mainly writes about sculptures and architecture, Tatul is a Michael Jackson fan and has created tons of articles about his idol, Rob is interested in classical music, Pandukht has many entries on Armenian Churches. At the moment, they would especially welcome more articles on science but any article has a right to be included as long as it complies with the Wikipedia policy and the main rules.
One thing that Armenian Wikipedians stress is that they work on quality rather than on quantity, which applies to the members themselves - for them, it’s better to have a few dedicated users that hundreds of people who break the rules and make contributions once every few months.
Even though there are people who prefer controllable platforms and look for material support or governmental assistance, for most of the active members, Wikipedia is all about good faith collaboration and openness, and a place where people do not have any other motivation than satisfaction and pleasure from the contribution itself.
However, in Armenia the main issue remains the lack of information and awareness about Wikipedia, which is something the concerned parties are working to address. They will not only spread the word but will also teach people how to edit Wikipedia; they believe that more people will soon join the “Wiki party” and will share the fun of being a Wikipedian.