Armenia for Handsets

Moskovyan Street. Yerevan, 2014.

Du kap unes! (You’re in touch!) So read the adverts for Armenia’s VivaCell-MTS telephone network, one of the country’s major mobile providers. Telecommunications in the south Caucasus republic are dominated by Russian firms MTS and Beeline, which were joined in 2009 by France’s Orange. All three companies have impressive network ranges, shown in their offices as bright red arteries winding through relief maps, from Vanadzor all the way to Meghri.

Signal receptions, however, can travel over border fences – barbed wire ones, to be precise – in this sort of forgotten part of the world.

‘Welcome to Armenia!’ beam SMS messages to visitors to the ancient Armenian ruined capital of Ani, now in far Eastern Turkey. A transmitter tower somewhere across the Araks, presumably, is the culprit.

Orange Armenia’s advertising campaign in the Armenian capital of Yerevan seems to favour bus shelters. Places of impermanence and impatience, exactly those to check text messages, the time, and murmur discontent.

An outline map of Armenia’s borders shows the location of Orange’s offices, with the reassuring title Amenoor dzer Koghk’in (Everywhere by your side.) Everywhere, that is, apart from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh addition (grey paint smear.) Yerevan, 2014
Nagorno-Karabakh addition (grey paint smear.) Yerevan, 2014.

The breakaway state, recognised internationally as Azerbaijani territory, is majority ethnically Armenian (tracing its origins in the conflict between Azerbaijan and the Karabakh Armenians’ right to join the Armenian SSR, leading to the bloody 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War.)

The borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, forming the core territories claimed by the Republic, are shown on Orange’s map of Armenia with the name Artsakh, and are shaded the same colour as the Republic of Armenia itself. It appears, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Orange does not operate a network in Azerbaijan.

There are, however, no Orange offices shown in Nagorno-Karabakh, though if there were, they may not be visible. Some dedicated soul, on two more of Orange’s advertisements in Yerevan, has added surrounding Azerbaijani territories controlled by Nagorno-Karabakh onto the telcom map, in grey paint.

In one of these variants, the culprit has painted over Karabakh’s core territories; in another they have dutifully painted around them, perhaps proud of Orange Armenia’s displaying them as being outside of Azerbaijan. The choice of paint is illuminating; the unrecognised republic remaining literally a grey area.

The future, as it’s said, is bright. The future’s Orange. For Orange Armenia, it seems, it’s blue and red too.


Photographs courtesy of the author.

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