The Deceptive (and Ironic) Way My Interview about Kalavan on Arrajin Alik News Was Edited

19/06/2023

Update: Alexandra Hunanyan, a journalist from News.am, read about how my interview with Arrajin Alik was distorted in editing and was kind enough to reach out to me and interview me for two much more accurate articles about my experience living in Kalavan. Read them here:

News.am: American Kalavan Resident Gregory Diehl Strives to Be "Captain America" for Armenian Women

News.am: Gregory Diehl, "Armenia - The Land of Pretend, Where the Fear of Failure Leads to Stagnation"

The Armenian news program Arrajin Alik (Առաջին ալիք) recently aired a story about Kalavan village (Առաջին ռեպորտաժ․ Տուրիստական Հայաստան). It featured two minutes of footage of me playing with my animals and briefly introducing myself and why I moved to the village. As happy as I am to have to opportunity to show off my house, books, and fur babies, I found it alarming how the editors chose to frame my words. They cut out everything important I said and left in only what was consistent with the idyllic image they wanted to portray for Kalavan (i.e., that it's a revolutionary and progressive place where residents run their own businesses and are economically self-determined).

You can watch the segment featuring me on Facebook: https://fb.watch/leSggqZ0LK/

Or the whole story on YouTube: https://youtu.be/AJpVSo_V5iw?t=124

Before we started, I asked the interviewer, "Do you just want me to say positive things about the village? Or do you want me to really tell you my impressions of what life is like here?" She responded that she definitely wanted me to tell everything, not just what would sound good for the cameras.

As you can see in the short clip, I started by talking about how I traveled around the world for more than ten years. Then I decided it was time to retire in Armenia. So I spent time looking at many different villages, and Kalavan was the only one I saw that seemed to present itself as a place that cared about developing its future. They promoted a public narrative of increasing economic activity and tourism and teaching the people who lived here empowering entrepreneurial principles. That progressive image was the primary reason I chose Kalavan to live in out of all the villages I looked at. It's why, with the help of the locals pushing the public narrative, I bought the last house for sale here in 2018 and moved in just months later.

That's the part they showed me saying on camera. However, that was just the setup for the actual point I was trying to make. I went on to say after that in the four years I've been here, I've realized that it's largely just a public narrative that they tell the media, that there's not much actual entrepreneurial development happening in the village. I explained that though the people who introduced me to the village and helped me buy my house acted like they were very interested in having me, as a business development author and someone experienced in working with developing communities worldwide, teach entrepreneurial ideas and even English to the people who lived here, I've mostly been ignored the whole time I've been here. With the exception of Samvel, the commendable man who has led the construction on my house for the last few years, everyone I have tried to collaborate with here has proven themselves unreliable.

All interviews are subject to editing before publication. But by only including the first minute of my words and not the point I was leading to, they are changing the context and deliberately misconstruing what I said. They included exactly as much of what I said that would appear to support their journalistic agenda when taken out of context and omitted the more important parts that would convey what I intended. The resulting appearance is my having said the opposite of what I meant.

In many cases, the people of Kalavan are actively opposed to economic developments that would benefit everyone here, such as opening a local store that would simplify the expensive and inefficient process of bringing supplies in regularly from Dilijan or Ijevan an hour away. It would also allow the locals to brand and sell what they produce for themselves to each other and the tourists who visit the guesthouses that have been established with government funding. Indeed, this would incentive guests to stay longer, as one of the primary reasons they leave prematurely or feel reluctant to come is the lack of reliable access to basic goods and services.

I concluded my interview by saying that I've just had to accept that if the people of Kalavan were really interested in any of these things, they would have done them by now. They've had plenty of opportunity but don't act on it. And there's a huge difference between talking about these progressive ideals to the media and actually doing them.

The journalist who interviewed me, Arusyak Kapukchyan, spoke excellent English and seemed to understand everything I was conveying. She was very interested in the hidden truth I was revealing, and it's certainly not her fault that the in-depth interview she conducted was cut down this way. I told her about the neighbor's dog killing my blind cat Matit (the mother of the orange cat I'm shown holding in the interview) and how the owner refused to take the smallest effort to fix the situation by keeping his dog contained or relocating it. It could have made for enlightening real-world story of what the community is like here in Kalavan. But evidently, that's not the image the editors at Arrajin Alik wanted to portray. This is not journalism; it's advertising. It's manipulation and dissociation all the way down.

For this reason, I was inspired to write a book about the economic and cultural lessons I've learned since moving to Kalavan: Everyone Is an Entrepreneur: Selling Economic Self-Determination in a Post-Soviet World. It's also why I was determined to have it translated into Armenian and published locally through Edit Print. I wanted to allow all of Armenia to learn the economic lessons I moved here to try to instill into a populace that portrayed itself as being interested in radical economic and cultural development.

I concluded the afterword to Everyone Is an Entrepreneur with this caveat about the difference between public appearances and objective realities:

"At the time of this writing, if you look up Kalavan, Armenia online, the results will show you several media puff pieces that promote the undeveloped village as a hub for ecotourism, scientific advancement, and economic self-determination. The narrative sounds terrific, but it is based almost entirely on words spoken to journalists and promises made by bureaucrats who have no entrepreneurial incentive to see them through to success and market equitability. The inaccurate media portrayal makes visitors all the more disappointed when the façade falls and the truth becomes apparent. But it does not have to be this way. The people here have the power within them to build a genuine brand identity and reputation based on the real strengths they have and ideals they seek to live up to. They and the world will be permanently wealthier because of it."

I still hear stories about residents of Kalvan not being about to perform basic renovations to their homes to keep water out when it rains heavily or cold air from coming in gaps in the walls and rooves in winter. Even though skilled workers with knowledge of how to fix these issues are available, the common Kalavanian is too poor to pay for the bare minimum of materials or the labor of the people who could help. I wonder why these people, who acknowledge that their material quality of life is suffering because of their inability to generate economic growth for anyone besides the few privileged guesthouse owners, aren't interested in learning and applying real entrepreneurial principles in a place that's intent on branding itself as such. I wonder if the storytellers actually care about helping anyone here or if they are only serving their own ulterior motives. 

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