The idea to open a WikiClub in Stepanakert emerged in 2015, when the Armenian chapter of Wikimedia decided to set up WikiClubs in Artsakh as well as Armenia. Back then, I was a student at the Department of International relations of Yerevan State University, finishing my graduate studies and simultaneously editing the Armenian Wikipedia. When Susanna Mkrtchyan, Head of Wikimedia Armenia, met me, she suggested opening a WikiClub in Artsakh, in Stepanakert, and becoming its coordinator.
In general, when you start a new thing, you always face challenges; in this case there were special challenges, since we had to have something new, the coordinator was a little-known, almost unexperienced graduate, and the job was going to be voluntary (all Wikipedians in the world are volunteers). Of course, at the beginning many obstacles were related to technical issues, but if you are going to do something taking full responsibility for it, I think, nothing can be an obstacle, at least in my case it is like this.
So, at the beginning I needed to explain difference between Wikimedia and Wikipedia: the first is an organization and the second, a project implemented by the organization. Then I proved how important it is to edit the Armenian Wikipedia, especially the articles related to Artsakh. Meanwhile I met many bright and energetic people who helped us to start working, and as a result, today we have three WikiClubs in Artsakh, more than 260 editors and 3000+ articles on the Armenian Wikipedia (the majority of which are about Artsakh). At Wikimania, the world congress of Wikipedians, Artsakh was represented for two consecutive years, so that the voice of Artsakh is getting heard in different corners of the world.
Meanwhile I met Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia, and gave him a book about Artsakh and a wooden miniature of our symbol, the statue of Granny and Grandad. Mr Wales had been aware of Artsakh since the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Sweden sent them a note of protest against my participation as a Wikimedia representative in Wikimania-2019 in Stockholm. Rather than create problems for me, this episode helped me and our WikiClub draw attention to ourselves and make the name of Artsakh heard many times in the framework of the Wikimania that gathered 900 participants.
As to public attitudes, at the beginning I noticed mistrust, especially among older people, as we all know that being a head of something at young age makes you look suspicious, particularly in the eyes of people used to Soviet standards. Gradually everything fell into place, since I proved by my work and commitment that age is a conventional number and has nothing to do with a person’s abilities and capacities. Moreover, when your work gets state support, you become more energetic and self-confident.
Recently, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Stepanakert WikiClub, we met with Bako Sahakyan, President of the Artsakh Republic, and Narine Aghabalyan, Minister of Science, Education and Sport. We told them about the work done by the WikiClub and our future programs.
The Stepanakert WikiClub has become one of the brightest chapters in my life, and the WikiClub editors, or as I like to put it, my children, are the most intelligent, the brightest and the most creative people I know. I am confident that Artsakh has a very bright future represented by these guys.
By Irina Safaryan
Co-Founder and Coordinator of Stepanakert WikiClub at Wikimedia Armenia
The posts by young Karabakhi women on their engagement in social, economic, political and cultural life in Karabakh are prepared in the framework of a project on Building Capacity for Societal Engagement in Nagorno-Karabakh implemented by the Caucasus Institute in partnership with Armavir Development Centre, Civil Society Institute and INTRA Mental Health Centre.