Answering Charges

by Nathan Hamm on 1/27/2006 · 26 comments

If you caught my nasty remark about Armenian blogs below, here’s a big part of the reason. Onnik is accusing me of improprieties and sending emails to my employers at Global Voices accusing me of being ethically unfit for the role of Regional Editor for Central Asia and the Caucasus. Since I’m being libelled, I feel I need to respond to a few of the charges. And remember, what I do and say here does not even slightly represent the opinions of Global Voices, the Berkman Center, or Harvard University. Also, I don’t speak for neweurasia.

First, in the email exchange that has gotten Onnik upset, I did say something like “I only blog for money now.” He’s taken that to mean I’m trying to make a living from blogging. I’m not, and I think he’s misinterpreted me. Because of time constraints, I now no longer make commitments to regularly write for other blogs unless I am paid to do so. I know myself. It can often feel like a burden writing for other sites (Winds of Change felt like a chore after a while), and money will force me to put in the time.

So, 1a, I get paid to write for Global Voices for those who don’t know. I estimate that I put in about 35-50 hours per month working for them. I’m not going to say exactly how much I get, but it’s less than $1,000 and more than $500.

Second, I consciously try to (and succeed fairly well, in my opinion) put aside any biases I have in doing my work for Global Voices. Regardless, neweurasia is going to get a lot of links. It has a lot less to do with me thinking they’re a swell bunch of people than it does with there not being too many blogs in the region that talk about issues. That’s changing, and as it does, my linking behavior will change.

Third, I have zero formal relationship with neweurasia and do not plan to have one in the future. I simply do not have the time, despite Onnik’s assertion that I hope to work with them in the future. That being said, I do take part in discussions among the authors and have privately offered advice to Ben. There are some things I’d do differently were I them, but I’m not going to rip on them for it for plenty or reasons, not the least of which is that Ben’s creation has had far more success recruiting local bloggers to write about issues than anyone else I’ve seen.

Fourth, in response to Onnik saying I should know better than to support Katy Pearce and neweurasia, all I can say is that there’s nothing mutually exclusive here. They can promote blogging in one way and Armenians can promote it another way. I wish them all success.

Let me just sum this up a bit. It’s being said that my true nature as an unethical jerk is flying high. And so far two emails have been sent to my employers charging me with a conflict of interest. In neither the public accusations nor the private ones have any evidence of impropriety been offered. The intent is to damage my reputation and livelihood. Onnik threatens legal action against neweurasia for failing to remove his biography from their Armenia page. (BTW, I have no idea why his posts were taken down.) I don’t know what the legal grounds for that would be, but I seem to have an actionable bit of libel on my hands.


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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 25 comments }

Ben January 27, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Wow, one day of hard work at uni, and then that…

I had accidentally deleted Onnik’s posts; last night, at around half past 11 at night. I sent my apologies to Onnik earlier on today:

Subject: Sorry
Sent: Fri, 27 Jan 2006 17:25:00 +0100 (MET)

Onnik,

I am really sorry to have accidentally deleted your posts – it was NOT done deliberately. After you saying that you’ll bow out of neweurasia, I deleted the user Onnik on the [Armenia] blog’s Wordpress system, from which all your posts got removed as well. Again, I am sorry, it was my fault in using Wordpress properly.

What do you want me to do? I really like your posts and I for myself want them back on the site. Do you want me to recover them via Google Cache and type them in again?

Ben

I sent this to Onnik – and got no answer, I also posted it on his blog but the comment is held in moderation until now.

Peter January 27, 2006 at 5:00 pm

Ben,

I’m pleased to see this explanation. I was confident that there had to be something more to the post disappearances than the censorship that has been precipitously spoken of. It’s not everyday you get compared to Turkmenbashi! I’ve always thought of you as more of an Akayev man myself…

Nathan January 27, 2006 at 5:01 pm

I don’t think he’s reading emails from us. What started with a (really fairly minor) difference of opinion and misinterpretation (we all know how tone doesn’t come across well on the internet) has now blossomed into baseless allegations and vitriol. Again, I have to say the Armenian blogosphere as it currently exists is doing some bang up diplomacy for Armenians.

One of the crappy things about Wordpress is that it deletes posts when an author’s removed. You either have to reassign post ownership or just demote the user to level 0.

Onnik Krikorian January 27, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Want to promote blogs from Armenia then develop the blogging sphere inside the country and not outside. This is first and foremost the problem.

Secondly, make your links with New Eurasia and Global Voices clear from the outset so there is no confusion and nothing is unclear. This is called transparency.

Thirdly, my Wordpress tells me that if you delete a user their posts will be deleted too. Either the decision was taken on purpose or you need glasses.

Lastly, key to a successful blogosphere is diversity and creating collaborative blogs such as New Eurasia is not going to work well unless you get Amenians on the ground in the Republic doing it.

They are there and they need support. This is not Turkmenistan and we need to have trust that our blogosphere is represented by those with a stake in the country’s future.

Your choice. Real civil society and student activists in Armenia or a couple of Flex students in the U.S. who are being directed what to write about.

I’d also suggest that Nathan, in your role at Global Voices, you have the responsibility to monitor and not define what you think the Armenian blogosphere should be.

Onnik Krikorian January 27, 2006 at 5:35 pm

Incidently, if you think you’re being libelled, take me to court.

Nathan January 27, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Onnik, I only mention it to put in perspective your statement regarding a lawsuit against them.

I’ve not said a single word on the Armenian blogosphere at Global Voices, nor will I. It wouldn’t be proper to inject my personal opinions into that professional role, and I think it’s vile that you’re saying I do.

And again, I agree with you that they need people inside the country. Hell, I could care less if it’s neweurasia doing it. Just people inside the country promoting blogging; that’s what’s needed. I support anyone doing it. In neweurasia’s case, they’re young still. Don’t expect the world. And one benefit of working with TOL would be that the money would get people on the ground.

Since I don’t consider my relationship to neweurasia to be anything more than me speaking my mind to some friends about a project of theirs. I don’t want to be part of it, and I’ve done nothing with the intention of making money off of anything they do. I didn’t know I had to disclose who my friends were and what we talk about, but I’ve done it.

Unless you think I’m lying, I’d like to see you apologize to me. And if you think I’m lying, then come on and say so. It’d be nice if you could at least make an attempt at backing it up.

artyom January 27, 2006 at 8:50 pm

Nathan you compare us to the North Korean dictators and you want the other cheek dude? And my cloak too? This one is well beyond me to be honest, although I don’t necessarily believe in the lex talionis. I also think it is as not as bad to have a bang up diplomacy coming from some unsignificant blogger like me than from the State Department. Plus none of the Armenian bloggers that I know are speaking for the Armenians, and isn’t Michael Jackson an American? He surely has screwed up the American image hasn’t he? – if I were to follow your logic to its conclusion.

Nathan January 27, 2006 at 9:00 pm

No, I don’t want the other cheek. You don’t have to like me, and you don’t have to be nice to me. You can have your insular community with your very own special version of dhimmitude for outsiders too. All I ask is that people don’t make things up about me, and that people who have a problem with me man up and try to work it out with me before running off and tattling. (Tattling on horribly flimsy grounds, I might add. Are people to believe that working for GVO is all part of some plan I have to shape blogs in Central Asia and the Caucasus to my will? Why would I waste my time or even care?)

And the North Korea comparison was to its hermetically sealed society. But in the case of the Armenian blogosphere, it’s self-imposed, which I guess is worse.

Brian January 27, 2006 at 9:32 pm

Don’t you see the irony in all this? We have here lots of people spending a lot of time writing their opinions and thoughts in blogs about how other governments (or perhaps their own) and institutions should manage themselves, yet when there is a disagreement amongst themselves about how their blogs should be managed it devolves into a chaos that is analgous to that which they are writing about! Ahh, beautiful irony…

Although I shouldn’t preach, I don’t have a blog myself.

Can’t we all just… get along? 🙂

Nathan January 27, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I wish we could Brian. But some folks like to spend lots of time chasing at shadows.

Andy January 28, 2006 at 2:57 am

I used to chase shadows once. I just ended up running into a wall and hurting myself.

Onnik – it really is spectacularly easy for the average Wordpress user to do stupid things like delete an entire author’s posts, even when there is a notice on the screen saying exactly what will happen. I should know – I’ve done it before too. Cut Ben some slack and stop seeing conspiracies in every action.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I’ve just visited the global voices site, and run a quick search for both Onnik and Armenia.

Both searches bring up plenty of results, so I think it would be somewhat difficult to accuse Nathan of either not covering the Armenian blogosphere (whatever his personal feelings about the state of it) or to accuse him of not covering Onnik’s work in particular.

Nathan January 28, 2006 at 3:38 am

Of course, he thinks I’m trying to use my power there not to neglect him but to control the Armenian blogosphere. (I think. It doesn’t make sense to me, so I’m doing the best I can. He did call Katy authoritarian, and he’s attacking me for defending her, so I don’t think I’m too far off.)

But, just to reinforce what you’re saying, I’ve posted somewhere around 50-60 items about Armenia in my time as Regional Editor. Check the Armenia page. For comparison’s sake, I’ve only posted somewhere around 20-30 items on Uzbekistan, a country I’m far more interested in. I invite those who are interested to read the posts to see for themselves whether or not I’m trying to force anything upon Armenians through my posts there.

Again, Onnik’s free to provide even the most meager thread of evidence for his accusations. And he’s free to not do so and accuse me of some grand lie. Or, he could suck it up and apologize.

Onnik Krikorian January 28, 2006 at 3:57 am

But interesting to note that when given the opportunity to link to two identical posts by me on both my site and New Eurasia you chose the latter. You made a mistake guy because they don’t exist anymore.

I also say again that New Eurasia could have done something inside Armenia but didn’t even try, didn’t even ask, mainly because Katy wants the job of controlling the Blogosphere even though Blogrel has deteriorated into trash and plagiarism.

As for attacks, as I remember, you made the first attacks on the Armenian Blogosphere without any attack on you first. So, for you to now get huffy is a little rich.

And no, I won’t apologize. You privately engaged in discussion with New Eurasia when you could have done it in the open so that all of us could have benefitted, but did not.

Ironically, even though I was still at New Eurasia when the discussions were going on I was kept out of the loop until the last minute yet when it comes to Armenia, I’m the one on the ground who is trying to promote blogging from within the Republic.

Promoting blogging from outside and DICTATING the topics for discussion is not genuine and does not promote genuine discussion in the Armenian blogosphere.

Nor does your attitude which has been agressive towards Armenian bloggers long before they focused their attention on you and Katy.

Onnik Krikorian January 28, 2006 at 4:12 am

But let’s get something straight. Your involvement started with me turning down doing an Armenian summary for Global Voices because I could see your involvement — even indirectly — with New Eurasia and I see Katy Pearce has being one of the biggest threats to the Armenian blogosphere — pushing her own ambitions even though her knowledge of the situation in Armenia is limited. You then chose to JUSTIFY the disappearance of my posts from New Eurasia which is kind of stange given that you should know better, and given Peter’s more reasoned approach.

Anyway, the ridiculous situation is now that New Eurasia and yourself would prefer an Armenian blogosphere created and maintained by non-Armenians. This is OUTRAGEOUS and what do you possibly know about people who could do something from within society here that would be a million times better than anything you guys could do?

Even the Diasporan blogosphere represents the conversations going on there whether you like the attitudes and mentality or not. You instead became involved and agressive towards that conversation instead of monitoring it.

Nathan January 28, 2006 at 5:13 am

Onnik, you’ve long past worn out your welcome.

1) I said I could see why your posts would have been deleted given your disproportional anger to being included in some group emails.

2) I have publicly particpated in neweurasia discussions with everyone else. You’re free to verify this on your own, but I doubt you will. I’ve also given Ben privat feedback when I’ve felt it’s more appropriate. I think that about 1 in 6 billion people find this to be a moral failure, so I’m not sweating it.

3) Spare me on attacking me for my feelings. You echoed those feelings here and here. You’re the one who got the vapors after Katy sent out a simple announcement. I was very civil in my responses even after you emailed Rebecca accusing me of improprieties. That you considered that spam is your own business.

4) Let me reiterate for anyone who has a hard time with the English language. I DO NOT CARE WHO ENCOURAGES BLOGGING IN ARMENIA, AND I APPLAUD ONNIK KRIKORIAN AND ALL OTHER ARMENIANS WHO SUCCESSFULLY ENCOURAGE BLOGGING BY ARMENIANS. Onnik, I’ve said this time and time again. I don’t fault neweurasia for their failures as I don’t think they’re born out of malice.

Again, my preference is for there to be more blogs from the entire region written by folks in the region. I think they’re more interesting, and I’d rather link to them at GVO and here. (It’s worth noting that there are heaps of blogs in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but that they’re written by Americans. I don’t link to them often because they’re rarely interesting.)

5) I linked to your neweurasia posts simply because Ben asked me to do so. But, we do have an email address at GVO that people can submit links to. And, more often than not, when someone takes the time to submit a link, they get linked… It does make my job easier, after all.

6) Again, including me in discussions of neweurasia’s work is inaccurate. Even my input to Ben on the project is rare.

7) My involvement started when you accused me of a conflict of interest in the email withdrawing from the GVO position. And that was borne out of an email discussion to which you had an inexplicably hostile reaction.

Onnik, your attacks on me aside, I’d still prefer you to volunteer with GVO. Why? Because now it looks like some non-Armenians will be covering Armenia on the left column. And even though they’re my friends, I’d much rather have someone more connected to the community highlighting the Armenian blogosphere.

Again, I invite you to prove I was aggressive to Armenian blogs on GVO. You’re right I was here. But I haven’t been on the site my employers run. Quite the contrary, I’ve given them much more attention despite the fact that I’m much more concerned with other countries in my region. And that’s all because I’ve done my job in good faith.

Peter January 28, 2006 at 5:45 am

Onnik,

I case you’re proposing another to let off another fusillade, can I please ask you do so in my or Ben’s direction. To my knowledge, Nathan has never written for neweurasia, doesn’t want to write for neweurasia, doesn’t plan to write for neweurasia, doesn’t get money from neweurasia (not least because we are all students and do not have any money by very definition), will not get money from neweurasia, doesn’t want money from neweurasia, has never met even Ben; in short has nothing to do with neweurasia, other than the fact he has communicated and given some or all of its members advise on specific issues.
As far as I understand there are a number of issues specific to neweurasia that you want addressed, and I don’t believe you want anybody to dismiss and ignore your views out of hand. I’ll try and list them below:

1) The mentoring system and its effect on independent blogging.
2) Your posts on neweurasia. Should they be reinstated or not?
3) The effort to recruit and/or encourage home-based bloggers
4) The links between GVO and Neweurasia.

On the last point, you should know the answer because you were at the GVO conference and sat at a table in the pub with Rebecca MacKinnon, Ben and myself. I think Nathan has said and I’m sure Ben will confirm this, there is no formal link, no money exchanged, or anything else of that kind. It has been said before, I’m saying it now, and we will probably say it again.
The rest of the discussion belongs properly among us (neweurasia and ex) and needs to be conducted as a two-way conversation, where people answer and comment constructively on eachothers views. It does not belong on this web site for the reasons listed in the first paragraph.

Peter January 28, 2006 at 6:00 am

Incidentally, you have said on your own blog that you found no e-mails from Ben in your inbox. I have also sent you a couple of e-mails. Could you confirm if those have not been received either? If not I can put them on your comments section. Perhaps in that of your latest post, which is about peace settlements.

Onnik Krikorian January 28, 2006 at 6:26 am

Peter, no I said all correspondence would be treated as spam before being read. Therefore, it might well have been received, but automatically deleted as spam.

As for GVO, my personal opinion is that someone totally unconnected to Armenian blogging should be the one to do so, and in the interest of impartiality that includes me.

It would probably be better that given the exchanges that have happened in the past few months that someone totally unconnected to any Armenian-related blog be responsible for summarizing and linking to Armenian blogs.

That means, you, me, Ben, Katy and anyone who is directly in a personal or professional relationship with us or has their own blog touching upon Armenian issues.

This is the ONLY way that trust is going to be built up again, and my favored approach if a genuine Armenian blogosphere is going to be monitored and highlighted.

Onnik Krikorian January 28, 2006 at 6:31 am

Basically, even before this exchange, most of the most prolific blogger were unhappy with the situation regarding monitoring and linking to Armenian blogs, and basically those concerns must now be addressed.

No one who might have a vested interest in promoting some blogs over others should be given the responsibility to effectively define that section of Global Voices that is effectively a portal to the Armenian blogosphere.

There is no confidence among most of us blogging on Armenian issues that this is the case and there now needs to be whether you agree with us. Ultimately, is Global Voices meant to be defining the Armenian blogosphere or monitoring the conversations being held within?

Peter January 28, 2006 at 7:17 am

Ok, if we’re agreed that we can have a conversation can you please unspam my e-mail and that of anybody you feel that it is appropriate to speak on this subject with.

Nathan January 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm

Here’s an incredible idea, Onnik. If Armenian bloggers think I’m not linking to their blogs in the proper way, why don’t they let me know how I could do better. They’re free to send me links to posts they think the GVO community would find interesting. And since you have a strong interest in the matter, why don’t you take the first step. It’s a little hard to respond to complaints that aren’t being articulated.

Like I said though, there are certain types of posts that are a better fit than others for GVO. No offense to the bloggers who write these kinds of posts, but “I went to a really cool store today!” posts, for example, are not what we do. Reprints of stories from RFE/RL or Hetq Online aren’t going to get linked. So, some people will get more links than others.

Onnik Krikorian January 28, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Then there is no Armenian blogosphere because most of the posts are just that. In defense of Hetq, however, I’ll say this. Extra material or commentary is posted by myself or Garo so we have a unique behind the scenes look at how a story was put together, sometime before it is published and sometimes the same day.

Regardless, this is why I think we need to get young bloggers posting from within Armenia now.

Nathan January 28, 2006 at 4:00 pm

I don’t mean to attack Hetq in any way, and I think I have linked to supplemental stuff from you guys.

All I really want to get across is that I don’t care who gets young people blogging in Armenia. I just hope that whoever puts in effort succeeds, and I do plan to link to that stuff at GVO. I’m not trying to dictate to anyone what they can or can’t do in the way I choose the links. I’m just making a good faith effort to do my job and execute GVO’s mission.

That no one attacking me has taken the time to point out anything I’ve done wrong makes this all the more absurd.

Onnik Krikorian January 29, 2006 at 4:00 am

I’m sorry, but I believe that being involved in private discussions regarding a possible commercial collaboration between New Eurasia and Transitions Online is wrong and represents a potential conflict of interests on your part.

And, although I agree with your assessment of the Armenian blogosphere in the main, attacking Armenian bloggers on Registan.net was inappropiate to say the least. Even though some of these people have no love for my work, they at least represent the real conversation going on among Armenian bloggers in the Diaspora.

As for promoting blogging from within Armenia, New Eurasia is not seeking to do that and moreover, by dictating subjects to a few students outside of the country isn’t going to help when attention could be turned to supporting bloggers inside Armenia.

In my opinion, you can not encourage young people to blog. However, there are many young activists and students INSIDE Armenia who are currently using discussion boards and who could be encouraged to put their thoughts, ideas and experiences on a blog.

Basically, what we’re talking about is the need to create a genuine blogosphere from inside Armenia as opposed to doing something outside ONLY because Katy has (limited) contacts outside the Republic.

Peter January 29, 2006 at 6:37 am

“As for promoting blogging from within Armenia, New Eurasia is not seeking to do that and moreover, by dictating subjects to a few students outside of the country isn’t going to help when attention could be turned to supporting bloggers inside Armenia.”

Onnik, new eurasia was seeking to promote blogging from within Armenia, not least by having you on the team. I would still like you on the team, because you would be indispensable in helping that to happen. However, instead of debating this with us you have again commented on Nathan’s site, which has no links with new eurasia. I have posted a request for you to remove my e-mail from your spamming list to this very end, but it has not passed the moderation process. Can you please consider this issue before the debate continues.

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