“I'm going to interview the three presidents of Armenia”, says Artak Aleksanyan.
By Carlos Jose Bourdjian
Ten years ago when Armenian Public Channel (H1) started its broadcast outside Armenia, people liked to watch and hear the news in Armenian language, and though there was a difficulty in understanding Eastern Armenian but Armenians in Diaspora enjoyed it because after all it's ours as we say (mern anush e).
In general, I'm not the type of person who turns on the news every hour or once a day, maybe because I'm not into politics and have serious doubts about it, especially when it interferes with art. But sometimes I liked to watch the “Haylur” news because it covered art, economy and social life of Armenia besides politics. Then the program became more enjoyable when it was presented by a man who has his own way to anchor the news, but with one little problem he couldn't get rid of; high speed. Few years ago, at the end of one of the episodes of daily news he announced that this was his last appearance on Haylur and apologized to all who couldn't follow him due to his fast reading.
After finishing his education as a historian at Armenian Pedagogical University of Yerevan in 1998 he went to American University of Armenia to study political science and international law (graduated with MA degree in 2005) and later he studied communications at The University of Utah in USA (graduated with MA degree in 2008).
He thinks that there should be always a connection between the viewers and television. “People should realize that Haylur is not about anchoring the news. It is the hard work of a one week sleepless nights”. He works with his team 16 and sometimes 18 hours per day. He lives in the television and barely sleeps. Last time he had a vacation was in year 2005.
We saw him few times as one of the juries at the musical program 2 Asdgh (Stars on stage). Lately he hosted the 13th Armenian Fund Raising Telethon directly from Los Angeles, USA in November 2010.
We have met by chance and when I asked for an interview he responded positively. Later on he told me that he was surprised with my request because usually he is the one who interviews people and not vice versa.
After sending him a draft version of this interview to check it before getting posted I had some doubts of what his comments would be. But for the first time I was surprised when the article returned to me untouched, without any modification and with a note said: “I liked the article a lot. What do you think?”
He has a very interesting personality and a good sense of humor. And it is my pleasure to share with you this cozy interview with Artak Aleksanyan.
Being a TV anchor or what is called “senior correspondent” at the National Public TV Company in Armenia. What made you choose this path? Was it your love to Armenian history or your passion toward journalism?
Actually everything happened in 1996 when I was still studying at the Armenian Pedagogical University in Yerevan. I needed some money to support myself and cover all expenses related to my education at that time. I heard through a friend that the state second channel (called Nork at that time) was in need for a young journalist. So I met Robert Mavisakalyan, the head of “Nork”, who was completely surprised of my application (being a historian and not a journalist or studying journalism but still applying for this job). I guess he was somehow convinced after knowing the reason why I was doing this.
“It's raining outside. Come and let me introduce you to my colleague” was his words. So I met Nicolai Grigoryan, head of the news section who advised me to get some help. After a one month of training, I started to work at Nork as a correspondent in the news department and thus my journey began.
In 1997 I got an offer from the state first channel to work as a correspondent in the news program called Lraber. I worked there for only a year because I went to military service in 1998.
In 1999 I had the opportunity to work as a political correspondent for Prometheus TV, and then in 2000 I returned to Public TV first channel in the daily program Haylur.
So what I understand that everything happened by chance.
You are correct. But it was not my intention to become a journalist because I didn't like journalism in the first place. At that time I was more into history and thought journalism was a vulgar way of displaying the facts in this contemporary world, but somehow I got involved and now I love what I'm doing.
Your daily appearances in Haylur news made you popular in both Armenia and Diaspora. How long this lasted?
I started appearing in Haylur since 2000 and felt like I was experimenting myself with everything I was doing because I was lacking knowledge and experience unlike any other journalist. So I tried to learn everything related to my career in the first two years. Later I got trained, and I think I was one of the craziest and luckiest journalists in the Armenian Television who went to lots of trainings around the world such as Sweden, United Kingdom, France and Georgia.
But now you're not anchoring the daily Haylur news, right?
From your perspective, I'm not? but in reality I do. I am the producer of the news service for Haylur, so I work every day. Additionally, I handle presidential visits with full coverage of all details and daily reports. Finally I'm anchoring the Sunday Haylur edition.
In addition to the above. You started your own program called “Special Report”. Tell us a bit about it.
After I returned from the USA I founded a separate production company called Banatsev and I started a new program called Hadug Reportage (Special Report). “Special Report” is a weekly program of maximum 30 minutes. It covers most of the time anything or any problem happening today with ordinary people and not big events or celebrities. It simply touches people's life; that's why the slogan of the program is “Your Ambassador in television”. What makes this program special is first of all the excellent team, secondly the interviews and then the exclusive materials presented in a special way at the end. Our main goal is to offer the viewer something no other program has done before.
Do you appear in other programs through other TV companies besides Public H1 channel?
Absolutely no and it never happened to me before. I think it's not ethical and appropriate to work in a channel and be bridged with another at the same time, especially when this company invests a lot of money and time for you to become a successful reporter or journalist. It's not the same like show business people because they have to appear everywhere. But in our case it is better to stick with one channel.
In 2005 The Yerevan Press Club celebrated its 10th anniversary. On this occasion two special awards were granted in homage and remembrance of the organization founders. You have received the Tigran Naghtalyan Special Award for Creative Pursuit along with Tigran Paskevichyan who received the Valerie Aydinian Award for Publicist Articles published in “168 Jam” weekly. What does this award mean and why it was special to you? And did you receive other awards ever since?
I don't count my awards or prizes but I remember the special ones like the one I received by the British Council for Best Entrepreneur in South Caucasus. This was a huge award because I won a regional competition between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. There was another award. I think it was named Best TV Anchor Award by a special sociological association in Armenia. It was an honor to receive the Creative Pursuit Award because it was the 10th anniversary of the YPC, which means after their 10 years activities I was chosen to be the best in this category among all others. It has also a special meaning to me because it was named after Dikran Naghtalian, one of the great journalists of Armenia's history.
From the first day of my career I tried to become different and distinguished from others. I was criticized once for copying and doing exactly what other anchors did in BBC or CNN. But at least I tried and still trying to be different and special in order to become interesting and not boring. Today the consumption of television is not the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago. After internet became available, people stopped spending their time in front of the TV as they used to do before. So you have to be interesting, useful and different in order to catch the viewer's attention and keep it the longer you can, otherwise he will easily switch to other channels once he gets bored. In the past people were lazy enough to get up and change the channel by themselves but today remote controls made this job very easy. This award means a lot to me because it represents and concludes my efforts during those ten years. Besides, I like the category for which I was selected and awarded; creative pursuit.
How do you comment when people say they have doubts about the honesty of public TV in general and Haylur in special?
I guess this bad reputation was the result of a wrong information management that happened years ago. Later, after the elections some papers published stories and articles confirming the whole thing.
Is it right that Haylur is specialized in broadcasting misinformation especially after announcing false number of votes at the constitutional referendum few years ago?
I guess Haylur was not responsible for the false figures because it was a live broadcast for what the head of Central Election Commission said. We didn't even announce those figures by ourselves. But Haylur got all the blame because it came via our full coverage of the event at that time. The Public TV, unlike the rest of all channels, has the widest broadcast range and thus the biggest number of audience. Haylur can be seen from Turkey, Azerbaijan and other countries as well. That's why we are very careful in checking all the information prior to broadcasting because simply the enemy is watching us too. During the history of the past twelve years Haylur made only one mistake; being overexposed and very partial during the presidential elections on March 2008. The country was in chaos at that time and it was the responsibility of Haylur to balance the situation. We didn't keep or change the government; we just tried to take part without causing big problems not for the government but for the country itself because Haylur was and is still been watched by the enemy who needs only a little information to attack. We have witnessed some of their moves every day during that period.
Besides, we care about the Armenians who live in Diaspora and watch the daily news to check on the safety of their families in Armenia. Any single wrong detail can cause big worries to those people, so it is not fair to declare that Haylur is specialized in broadcasting misinformation because we double and sometimes even triple check everything. Maybe we are a bit late than others in announcing certain facts but at least we do it safely.
Today we are not interactive in a way that we should be and it is hard to control the flow of information around the globe but you can control the quality of the news. So we are careful about what and how we are saying and I don't think there is distrust to watch Haylur anymore.
Artak Aleksanyan with Carlos Jose Bourdjian
I don't know the situation in Armenia, but Armenians in Diaspora sometimes complain about your fast reading during Haylur. Is there any limit for this?
Artak Aleksanyan with Carlos Jose Bourdjian
In general I speak fast and I guess people are absolutely right (laughing). Usually I don't like anchoring the news, but I do this honestly because of the good salary. As a journalist I believe I deserve to be more than an anchor, because what I like doing most is the reportages that I prepare.
During the time I anchored the daily Haylur in the past, we always got a huge amount of information and news to be presented. Today even in the Sunday edition I have to be a bit quick to fit all those issues of the whole week in the specified 30 or 45 minutes. People noticed and later I felt that the rhythm of my reading was not appropriate. So I tried to change the speed but I don't think I have accomplished so much (laughing again). Hopefully someday I'll find a way to slow down.
During the years of your career you have met a lot of people and celebrities. What was the most interesting interview you have done?
I still remember my first interview in English with Russell Johnson, the General Secretary of NATO, in Brussels 2004. I remember this not because I was very nervous; he was so conserved and prompt about what he believes, about what NATO does and what they are trying to do here in Armenia. So I was impressed about the quality of the interview that came out because unlike Armenian politicians who speak up too much, it turned out that quantity doesn't guarantee the quality. It was my first time to see such a thing well done by a figure who can speak very honestly and professionally in the same time.
And is there anyone you wish to meet in future?
I'm going to interview the three presidents of Armenia; Levon Ter Petrossian, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Armenia's independency in 2011. I will try to do this in a human approach. To be more specific, I won't interview them as presidents but as decision makers and witnesses for the contemporary history of Armenia because they made our history during the past twenty years. I will try to mix their presidential history with their personal aspect, like what do they think, as humans, about themselves as presidents? Have they succeed or failed? What have they achieved? Or what do they think about the most important things that happened to Armenian people during that period? Actually I'm very excited for this and will try to do my best.
Speaking of presidents. How often do you accompany the president Serzh Sargsyan in his worldwide visits as the official correspondent of Public Television?
I always accompany the president with his delegation through his visits abroad. Usually there are other people besides me who do this job too but the priority comes to me first.
I know that you have a good taste in music. What kind of music does Artak Alexanian listen to?
It depends on the place and time. In my car for example, I usually listen to Jazz, Rock and Punk. And with Punk I mean pop/punk like Sola's music which is more popularized punk.
And what about Armenian music of today? Are you satisfied?
I don't listen very often to Armenian music of today because simply I don't like it. It is another version of Western / Americanized pop with Armenian lyrics; copy from the original and not even authentic.
Being a musician today is one of the hardest professions and you have to work 24/7 in order to become unique and original. Most of today's Armenian music representatives honestly are lazy, uneducated and untalented as well. They don't work hard on themselves and they are not well informed; they don't read and don't know what's going on in the world. So they are too far from being both original and ethnic.
During my last interview with Serj Tankian he mentioned that Armenian show business right now is trying to put some Armenian elements into American genre but it didn't work out because the music should include Armenian ethnic music as a base and not by just adding few elements. Today they have a “snobbish” approach toward our national music by taking some elements and modifying them the way they want. This is completely wrong because music has its own and different genres. Besides, in order to understand Armenian music you should at least read literature about Komitas, Aram Khatchatryan and our national music too. Only after that you can improvise. Unfortunately our musicians are going to the next step without having the basic knowledge. Sometimes they complain of not being famous because simply they are not good enough to become popular.
Artak Aleksanyan with fiance Gohar Manukyan (they were married on 17 December 2010)
Are there any positive exceptions?
Artak Aleksanyan with fiance Gohar Manukyan (they were married on 17 December 2010)
Of course and they are few like The Dorians in Rock genre. I heard about another rock group called The Beautified Project but didn't listen to their music yet. Vahagn Hayrapetyan is excellent in Jazz music and the singer Hayko in pop genre. I want to be a bit subjective regarding Hayko because he's a good friend of mine, I like his works and he has done a good job.
I agree with you that he has done a good job in a time when Armenian music was still experiencing the new Estrada to Pop concept. Although his works have lots of influences from Latin and foreign music, but at least he is trying to be different.
But there is another problem our artists face; updating. Your computer will crash down if you didn't update the antivirus program all the time. The same will happen or is somehow happening with our artists because they are not updating themselves to stay longer in the market. If you look to the music history of Eminem you'll see that his past music has nothing to do with the latest released album, because the guy wants to be different, updated and successful. But I guess Armenian artists are afraid of change. They have a problem to adopt something new and prefer to stay the same rather to improvise or experience something different. For example people love Shushan Petrosyan because of her well known songs related to Armenia and motherland. Although Shushan, unlike other artists, sings Jazz, Soul and tries to experience new stuff from time to time, but I like to see her cooperating with new producers and new music styles. On the other hand, we see artists performing the same music in a way they did for 10 years with the same haircut, appearance and even face expressions. Good examples are Aramo and Emma Petrosyan.
You were the last journalist who interviewed Elvina Makaryan before her tragic death in 2008 and lately you have interviewed System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian. You have made your point regarding the latter. But tell us your comments about Elvina's interview.
Before the interview I didn't know very much about Elvina Makaryan. But then, I was really impressed. She was very strong woman with huge self confidence. She was well educated about music and everything related to the world where she belonged; the world of music. You can barely see a woman so steady like her. She had a clear vision of what she has done before, what she was doing and what she must do for Armenian music. I'm very sorry for her death. She was gone too soon.
And what was the reason she was kept away from Armenia?
In early nineties she went to USA for tour. But before that she was fighting for a position in the Armenian head musical orchestra. People who worked with her tried to do everything to block her way not to get that position. And being in the United States helped them very much. Elvina got a call from her mom saying that she was fired from her work and it is better to stay there because what's the point of returning if she already lost her job. So, officially she was not forced to stay in USA but Elvina felt abandoned and decided to settle there.
What do you do in your leisure time, if you have it of course?
No I don't have leisure time. I honestly work 16 hours per day. I don't have enough time to sleep or see my fianc? (laughing).
What do you think about the media life in Armenia?
There was a time when it was boring because journalists were very lazy and never worked on exclusive basis. But now it is getting better and interesting especially after media became virtual and online.
What are your future plans?
I have few plans. One of them is to survive in the television till end of this season, May 2011. The second one is finally to get married. And since I don't have enough time for myself so I was planning this during lunch time (laughing) because postponing it one more time will not please my fianc?. Besides, it will be a good reason to have a vacation called honeymoon for a maximum 3 days, not longer (laughing). The third one is to stay always healthy, because it's not easy to work 16 hours a day on four weekly programs. Eventually this will effect on your body, nerves and everything. I don't remember the last time I slept for eight hours. So I'll try at least to stay fresh and healthy. Our team slogan for this season is “Nobody dies till May” then everybody is free to do anything they want (laughing again).
Another project that I'm working on is a book called American Notes. It includes my notes and writings as a blogger during the time I spent in the United States. It is an experimental book showing how, as a journalist I became a blogger then returned to journalism once again.
Together with the group of Banatsev we prepare excellent documentaries and we are preparing ourselves to a huge project called “Independency 20 years” in year 2011.
In addition to all above I write articles in different websites and academic journals. So now you have a picture about my spare time you asked me before.
It was a pleasure to have you as a guest in Azad-Hye. I really enjoyed this conversation and wish you all the best in your future plans.