Next Friday, April 24, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Although it isn’t officially recognized as a genocide globally, Armenians around the world use the day to remember those they lost as well as reignite their fight for global leaders to formally acknowledge their loss as a genocide. Despite this day being so close to Armenian hearts, the details of the event are largely unknown by the general population. However, on the heels of a major anniversary, world leaders have become more vocal about the cause, as the Pope declared that it was the first genocide of the 20th century and the European Parliament put pressure on Turkey to recognize it as a genocide. This has increased awareness of Armenia’s history and opened the door to further discussion, which social media could build upon if used effectively.
Past social media campaigns have been largely lackluster. Last year, #ArmenianGenocide was trending on Twitter as people paid tribute to those they lost.
However, it did not spark a wide conversation and was unnoticed to most, probably due to the generic nature of the hashtag. While a broader, more generic hashtag allows for the cause to reach more people, it does so in a shallower manner and lacks the focal point needed that typically causes a hashtag to go viral. Therefore, with the monumental 100th anniversary coming up, what should be done better this year to educate those who do not know about this tragedy and remember those who passed?
One major barrier to widespread support and education about this event is that there isn’t an official Armenian national account. There are a couple prominent Armenian accounts like the US Embassy to Armenia and the Armenian Embassy, as well as accounts dedicated to remembering the genocide like 100 Years, 100 Facts, and ArmGenocide100.
However, each account only has a couple thousand followers with most tweets receiving less than 10 retweets and favorites. If there was an official, overarching account, it could act as the leader of the currently discombobulated Armenian presence on Twitter. A central account could be the driving force to driving up awareness of a 100th anniversary social media campaign, and could essentially solidify and centralize the message that all the different accounts should be espousing. This would not only bring together the followers of all the different existing accounts, a concentrated presence would be able to make some noise and attract the attention of media outlets. This anniversary has attracted the attention of major outlets like the New York Times, but gaining attention of other outlets like Buzzfeed or Vice will allow awareness to spread to new audiences as well.
However, since the anniversary is only one week away, creating this account and getting a large following is a challenge. Therefore, creating this account for the sole purpose of drumming up support for the anniversary seems short sighted, and it should also serve as a news provider beyond just this anniversary. This cannot be just an issue that people rally around once a year. This account should act as the unifying force on social media for Armenians even after the anniversary has passed, providing people with not only a cultural beacon online but also to act as a constant reminder of Armenia’s often forgotten history.
Even without a unified account, an effective social media campaign can be created for next week. Various accounts have already started drumming up support for their campaigns like #MarchtoJustice, #EndGenocideDenial. The best chance for these campaigns to go viral is to develop an overarching one that people can tack on to all tweets about their remembrances. This could be developed by the largest accounts and spread throughout the Armenian community to get everyone on the same page about spreading the word.
An effective hashtag should encourage storytelling, which is a major part of this event, but has been overlooked by many who show their condolences. Before this conflict there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and after only 400,000 remained in the empire. With such a high percentage of people affected, it is nearly impossible to find an Armenian family today who does not have a personal story to share from their ancestors. Where I believe prior campaigns have fallen short is that there is a large emphasis on the facts and figures, the amount of people who were killed, the number of people who were displaced, etc. What these numbers lack is the ethos, the countless stories of families being torn apart and lives being cut too short.
And with the 100th anniversary of the genocide approaching, those who lived through this time have already passed away, and stories their children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren know are at risk of never being told and being lost forever. A hashtag that encourages sharing provides a platform for Armenians all across the world to share their story, to join together in a chorus of voices that show the human side of this tragedy. Not only would this help preserve the story of millions, by adding a face to the figures, this campaign could finally reach the critical mass tipping point that prior campaigns have failed to reach and truly make it a well known global issue.
The 100th anniversary has already garnered the attention of celebrities, who have already begun sharing content. However, celebrity discussions suffer from the same disconnect Armenian accounts do. The members of System of a Down are Armenian, and very outspoken about this cause. They have discussed the genocide in lyrics and speak out about the genocide year-round with maps on their website detailing which countries have provided support and host events to pressure the Turkish Parliament to recognize the genocide. They’ve created a hashtag for their tour, #WakeUptheSouls, which will end in Armenia the 23rd with a livestreamed concert.
Additionally, this cause has one of the most prominent celebrities on social media’s attention and alignment: Kim Kardashian. Although her posts about the event are concentrated to a couple of posts a year, her reach on Twitter cannot be denied. She is not as outspoken about raising awareness as System of a Down, but with her recent trip to Armenia increased awareness about this event.
Although she has the scope that System of a Down does not have, 30.1 million vs 85,100 Instagram followers, System of a Down’s campaigns are seen as more legitimate. Kim’s trip to Armenia was written about in the New York Times, but the article focused more on her clothing than the reason she was there. Many Armenians are also not comfortable with designating her, or anyone in her family, as a leader in this arena due to her reputation. System of a Down’s campaigns have the legitimacy that Kardashian’s lack, yet they have not joined social media forces to make an impact. They each have what they other lacks, are passionate about this event, and a collaboration would make a much bigger impact than separate tributes.
Ultimately, the goal of Armenians is the universal recognition that what happened was a genocide, especially an admission of guilt from Turkey. Unfortunately, Turkey is a key strategic ally in the fight against ISIS, and a social media campaign is not going to unravel the current geopolitcal quagmire that exists in the Middle East today. The United States and its allies have been hesitant to come out admit that what happened to the Armenians was genocide and point a finger at Turkey as the perpetrator for fears that in retaliation Turkey will pull out of their coalition. Turkey has been a reluctant ally from the beginning, and the United States does not want to do anything to further upset them. However, even if this campaign only leads to greater awareness and helps educate more people about the genocide, that would be an excellent first step. Its unlikely that any campaign alone will help change a millennial of denial, but raising and growing awareness around the world will hopefully eventually lead to universal recognition.