Eric Hacopian

Mirror-Spectator Panel Speaker Eric Hacopian Stars in Wildly Popular Yerevan Online News Commentary Show

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WATERTOWN — The media commentator traveling the longest way to participate in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator journalists’ panel on Media Coverage of Armenia and Karabakh Today (October 27) at Tufts University is coming from Yerevan, but spent most of his life as a Democratic political consultant in California. Eric Hacopian has a weekly video show on Civilnet.am and cable television called “Insights with Eric Hacopian,” which is viewed by as many as 80,000-100,000 people on a good week and translated from English to Armenian and Russian versions.

Hacopian moved to Armenia in 2017 with his wife and children, thinking he was going to retire. He had a successful career in California but, he said, “I was 50 years old and doing that for another 15 years didn’t have any appeal.” However, circumstances took over. His Californian clients did not want him to stop working for them and when Covid happened, this made distance working normal.

Meanwhile, Salpi Ghazarian, cofounder and director of the Civilitas Foundation, which established CivilNet as its media program, knew Hacopian from California. She invited him to have a small media interview show. After the 2020 war, one of the producers suggested he should do his own solo show, Hacopian recalled, and when he did, the audience multiplied exponentially.

“So my retirement was not only not a retirement,” he said, “but I ended up having two careers rather than one. One you do in the mornings and the other at night, that starts at 7 o’clock at night and goes until 2 or 3 in the morning.”

Politics in the U.S. of A.

“I’m a red diaper baby,” Hacopian said. Born in Iran to a leftist family who moved to California, as a young man Hacopian first worked for a Ralph Nader acolyte, pursuing auto insurance reform as an organizer fundraising door-to-door for 2-3 years. He soon embarked on a career in politics. He said that was quite rare, as out of one thousand people only one makes it in this field, and he had no connections or rich family. He said wryly, “I succeeded by knowing nothing. If I had ever known the odds, I would never have gotten into it.”

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He had his own consulting firm since 1997, and some of his prominent non-Armenian clients include Congressmen Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Robert Garcia and Alan Lowenthal; Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, California State Senator Ben Allen, and former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.

Most of the Armenian Americans elected in California over the last 20 years were his clients too, both locally and regionally, but his involvement with Armenians took a tortuous path. He said, “When the opportunity came, when I was a kid, I sort of escaped Glendale, and I escaped that immigrant vortex. To me it was like a town of wide lawns and narrow minds. I moved out and never moved back. I was completely in non-Armenian circles.”

He said, “Armenians were white everywhere except in the places I grew up. Every day, going to school, people would drive by and yell at you, ‘F—g Armos’. Teachers would say things. There was a lot of racism against Armenians.” There were fights all the time. Hacopian said, “I don’t want to exaggerate it, but some of it actually just built character.”

Busy organizing in politics, he did not meet another Armenian in that line of work for three years, and, he said, “I was not even interested in anything Armenian. Looking back at it, I have no idea where that came from. At some level, though I wouldn’t say I am ashamed of it, I am not proud of it.”

The second Armenian he met in politics was Paul Krekorian, who was an attorney and a volunteer, working on a campaign for Jackie Goldberg, the first LGBT person to get elected to the Los Angeles City Council. Years later Hacopian worked on his first campaign for office, which he lost, and the second campaign, which he won. Henceforth, Krekorian won all his races.

Hacopian then started to work on local campaigns in the Los Angeles area for Armenian candidates, which was a new phenomenon in the late 1990s, and came to know everyone involved. He got Raffi Manoukian elected to Glendale City Council in 1999, while registering many new Armenian voters. Hacopian worked with various Armenian organizations and political parties at that time, but never became a member of any Armenian party (and has never worked in a professional capacity on any election in Armenia either).

The Show and CivilNet

Aside from working on “Insights,” Hacopian said that he does fundraising for CivilNet occasionally. Physically, he is only at CivilNet for two days a week at the most. “You see the topics of the week and where your political instincts kick in and your experience kicks in as to what is relevant with what is being discussed, the specifics of it.”

He noted that sometimes there are topics that should be discussed but are not necessarily beneficial to the country so he does not engage in them. Essentially, he said that he does not target the shows to reach the maximum of 100,000 watchers. He is shooting to be watched by the people “who matter,” who might in certain cases only be 50 people.

Initially, Hacopian said that he was writing a lot of articles, but he found that it is much better to say whatever you want to say in a video. He said that an article might be read by only 50 or 100 people, compared to the much greater viewership of the videos.

When asked why he thought his show was so popular, he said, “You can leave the United States, but you can’t take the American out of you. The show is very American in style, while European and local media are boring as hell. No one ever says anything.” On the other hand, the format of his show is much more aggressive and he often calls people out. In Armenia, he said, “They are not used to that kind of language or that kind of aggressiveness. Some of it really comes from the political world that I come from, where you don’t have to be nice. You can beat people over the head without having any reservations…It is almost shocking for some of them.”

Only 15-20 percent of viewership is in the United States, while there is a huge Russian-speaking Armenian audience, because of the great numbers of Russian-educated Armenians in Armenia. There is a much smaller group of Armenians in Russia, or Russians in Russia and Armenia, who are viewers.

Hacopian gets a lot of feedback about the show from different circles. He said, “Sometimes the feedback is that you become an outcast, and in many ways I am. I don’t get invited to many embassy parties.”

He said that CivilNet’s overall role in Armenia is very important, since there are few credible Western-style media sources in the region. Instead, he said, CivilNet “becomes the go-to person in narrative telling, trying to shape the news. The fact that a good part of its programming is done in English puts a stamp on the country. Most media in Armenia is awful, straight-up awful.” Many outlets are cut-and-paste services, he said, with “no questioning, no attacking, no investigation.”

Moreover, domestically, he said, “it is a very important part of building a media culture, building a critical culture and one of responsibility, in the sense that if you are an elected official, you will be held responsible. What I have learned with elected officials here is there is a little Stalinist in every Armenian and there is also an anarchist in every Armenian.”

Most of CivilNet’s money comes from diasporan Armenians, and some even from local Armenians. Hacopian said that only small amounts come from grants or Western sources. He said that some diasporan “anti-everythings” claim that CivilNet is Western-controlled because it took money from this or that thing. “What they are actually saying is that you are not oligarch-controlled, because in this part of the world, you are either raising money from every source that will give you some, whether it is local big Armenian donors or international donors, or you are going to become the plaything of some degenerate oligarch. So, which one do you want?”

He added, “The issue is does this money paint your coverage? I don’t think it does. If you watch my show, I speak probably more critically of Western things than I do of others.”

He admitted that some Western funders tried to pressure him or CivilNet on certain topics, but he exclaimed, “Who cares! You go to somebody else [for funding]. One thing about Armenia, unlike Georgia and others, there are plenty of Armenians you can go to for money.” Moreover, he said that George Soros, who is “everyone’s boogeyman,” has spent only a few million dollars in Armenia, which is pocket change nowadays. He said, “This notion that giving $10,000 to the Vanadzor Women’s Center is something revolutionary…If people only knew how irrelevant he is.”

More somberly, Hacopian worried that the media model that CivilNet was trying to spread in Armenia is dying all over the West. He said, “Every newspaper reporter I know [in the US], the good ones, are trying to leave and become PR people. There is no money in it and they are getting laid off. Media is disappearing.” Therefore, he considered the possibility that this type of media would die in Armenia in a decade or so. 

Western Media on Armenia and Artsakh

When asked how he assessed US and world media coverage of recent events in Artsakh and Armenia, he replied, “For the most part, the media coverage of everything from September 2020 on has been horrendous. There is no other way to describe it…I think that in the first six, seven months of the blockade it was nonexistent. I was working on that, by the way, as a side activity, and then I think after the [Luis Moreno] Ocampo report, it sort of made a breakthrough, and then there was a lot of coverage.”

He said that overall Armenians cannot blame the world media for not covering them. He declared that, “Seventy to eighty percent is our fault. We have never up until very recently done a successful job of telling our narrative in a way that matters to the world, at least the parts of the narrative that are sellable to the world, and we paid the price for it literally in blood and treasure in the last few years.” He said that there are some better and organized efforts now.

On the other hand, he said, “I think that there are some media sources which have distinctive biases against Armenians and Armenia in general, for reasons that are sometimes comprehensible and sometimes instinctive in nature. We are too white for the left and too dark for the right.”

‘Velvet Revolution’ and Nikol Pashinyan

Hacopian also addressed the Velvet Revolution and the rise of Nikol Pashinyan.

Hacopian said, “The [Velvet] revolution needed to happen. The revolution and the man leading it are not the same thing. The man leading it [Nikol Pashinyan] had grave limitations and has made some huge mistakes… We have the tendency for everything to be black and white. I am not for him; I am not against him. I was for the revolution but so was 80 or 90 percent of the Armenian world. I don’t apologize for that. A lot of good things have come from it, but then a lot of disasters have come from it.”

One key failure, he said, was that any student of history should have recognized that a successful revolution in a country like Armenia would be followed by war, as traditional enemies would take the opportunity to attack.

Along with his criticism, he did have some praise: “The best things that this government has done is what they have not done and who they are not. They are not crooked for the most part. They allowed this Armenian mercantile DNA gene to unleash itself.” Armenia now offers the highest wages in the region, and its per capita income today already where the World Bank predicated it would be in 2028. Hacopian pointed out that the capitalization of the top four Armenian unicorns in the IT field is about 18-20 billion dollars.

However, Hacopian said, “I am far more nationalist, and frankly, militarist, than he [Pashinyan] is. I also understand the very distinct weaknesses and the weak hand that he has in many ways. I am arguing that he hasn’t played his weak hand well. I am not claiming that he has a strong hand or that the country has a strong hand at this point.”

A difficulty that the Armenian leadership must grapple with, according to Hacopian is that “there are significant parts of this state, even today, which are not just disloyal to this particular administration, but disloyal to the country.” He said that some people in the Defense Department and intelligence agencies still have loyalties to Russia. For example, there used to be generals with Russian citizenship and the national security service was, he said, essentially a Russian subsidiary.

Also, it was only in May of this year that the Armenian Defense Department started doing briefings and communications in Armenian. Previously, the Russian language was being used. He said, “It was so that the Russians could read them easily — think about it.”

In other words, Hacopian said, “Yes, the regime has many failures, but what is the old line that paranoids have enemies too? It does have enemies.”

While the current government may want, he said, “to replace people that are suspect with people who are with you, and that is totally understandable, at the same time, you also end up going for loyalty over competence, which is a very distinct Armenian disease.”

Artsakh and Armenia’s Future

Hacopian said that the Artsakh issue has not ended: “In the long run, as the juxtaposition between these two countries [Armenia and Azerbaijan] changes, that issue is going to get revitalized — because of the way it was done, because of the fact that it was genocidal. The notion that this thing is going to go unanswered for 10-15 years from now…you don’t know human nature if you believe that.”

When asked how realistic are the prospects of Armenia regaining the strength to defend its own territory, perhaps as a garrison state, Hacopian cited several positive factors. First of all, Armenia is becoming a world center for chip design, with two of the three top chip design companies in the world there. If you can design chips and write programs, you have the basis for a strong military-industrial complex.

Warfare is actually getting cheaper. As an example, Hacopian said, “The whole Iranian operation targeting Israel probably does not even cost 100 million dollars, and yet it utterly humiliated the Mossad, the ShinBet, for all their fancy listening stations and AI intelligence gathering.”

Meanwhile weapons systems are starting to come into Armenia from India and France. By the end of the year, he said, there probably will also be established a Ukrainian-style national defense system of volunteers and reservists. He observed: “This country is becoming exceptionally militarized, though people don’t really see it. Every afternoon you can be on a metro and you see forty 12-year old kids dressed in uniforms going on a train somewhere. It is going to become one of the most militarized states in the world.”

Hacopian declared that economically, the tides will turn and the next 25 years will belong to Armenia. The World Bank estimates Azerbaijan’s per capital income to be $5,500 in 2050, while Armenia’s is $8,200 today. Armenia’s economy grew 13 percent this year, while Azerbaijan’s is expected to grow 13 percent over the next 26 years. Furthermore, by 2030 oil as an exportable commodity in Azerbaijan will be finished, leaving only limited natural gas resources, which are 7 times less profitable than oil per energy unit.

Meanwhile, the Armenian banking sector is exceptionally profitable and well run, he said, with foreigners starting to buy dram treasury bonds in drams, which has never happened before. Advances in mining, chip design and business make Armenian more valuable and connected to the world, and not just tied to one country.

Consequently, while in the mid-term to long-term, Hacopian finds the prospects of Armenia being able to defend itself good (barring an invasion by Turkey). One important thing needed, he said, is reform of the army, but this takes time. He said, “One of the tragedies of the first Karabakh war in the 1990s was that it was won essentially because we created an Armenian army culturally. What I mean by that was that it was not a top-down operation. It was far more driven by local initiative but we essentially destroyed that to replace it with a failed Soviet army, where every decision needs to be made in the prime minister’s office.”

Though Armenia must become able to defend its own borders, Hacopian said that if it were possible for American or French troops to come to replace the Russian base in Gyumri, anybody in Armenia would accept in a heartbeat, but “the issue is, are they interested in coming?” While Hacopian accepted that Russia has to be dealt with in the region one way or another, he said “A Russia that allows a second Armenian Genocide in Artsakh is not a Russia that is useful to Armenia.” Moreover a Russia that wins the Ukraine war will be a different Russia than one that loses it.

Ultimately, he said, “as far as the country becoming a garrison state, I think that is a given. I don’t think that there is any way around it. … We are going to see the complete Israelization of Armenian politics, where everybody that comes [to power] will be more militarist, more right wing than the one previous to it, or more nationalist.”

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