By Mark Grigoryan
My Thursday morning started with an unexpected phone call from London. The host of a live morning show on BBC Radio asked me what Armenians think of Kim Kardashian’s visit to Yerevan.
I wasn’t caught off guard by his question as I had previously followed some commentary on Facebook, and was amazed by just how much scorn and even hatred bilious Armenian Facebook users bestowed upon the American celebrity. When I told the radio host about it, the British journalist was taken aback: “Hate… red?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. “Precisely. Hatred.”
Indeed, dozens, if not hundreds, of moralists wrote that Kim Kardashian is not worthy of attention, that she is best known for “her ass” (pardon the language, it’s a direct quote), and that all in all, she’s just a “porn star.” Protesters gathered in front of Armenia’s government building to condemn the fact that the American TV star and model was welcomed at the state level.
But let's be fair: not everyone was negative about Kim Kardashian. Dozens of other social media users sprang to her defense, and one Armenian pop singer even wrote that she won’t do anything for her country after Kim Kardashian’s visit to Yerevan, because if she makes one wrong move, she “will be eaten alive like a cheap piece of meat.”
In other words this is a typical situation for the Armenian social media community – emotions (both positive and negative) flare, the arguments are fierce and “likes” number in the hundreds.
All this certainly proves that Kardashian’s visit to Armenia is a big deal. However, its significance goes far beyond the warriors of mouse and keyboard and their social network battlefields. No matter what we think of Kim Kardashian, her image and her reality show, we have to admit that her visit to Armenia has become a newsworthy event of global proportions.
BBC Radio asked whether Kim Kardashian should be considered the most famous Armenian female in the world at present. I think that’s the case. The most famous Armenian today is not Charles Aznavour, Atom Egoyan or Levon Aronian, but this 34-year-old American who became a global pop culture phenomenon, who stars in movies, has her own brand of children’s clothing and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on charity.
There’s no arguing with numbers. The sheer number of Kardashian’s followers on Twitter is 30.9 million people. This is about three times the number of Armenians in the entire world. Add another 29.7 million followers on Instagram and you cannot argue that every word Kim Kardashian says on the Internet reaches tens of millions of people.
A huge number of people have seen her photos from Armenia, including those who’ve never heard of such a country and those who have no idea where it is. At the same time, all of her videos made in Yerevan show great respect for her historic homeland and the people she meets during her stay.
There is another aspect to this visit. Many of Kardashian’s critics (and the critics of her visit to Armenia) seem to overlook the fact that her main goal is to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide. After all, she too is a direct descendant of a family that was forced to flee their homeland at the dawn of the 20th century. In other words, Kim Kardashian also came to pay respect to members of her family, to honor them together with many others, who, just like her, are descendants of those who were killed, exiled, humiliated and deprived of their homes. And she certainly has that right, just like any one of us.
Not to mention the great PR that her arrival has generated for Armenia. One journalist calculated how many millions of dollars it would take to get Western PR agencies to publish articles and make TV shows about Armenia. That figure was very impressive. I don’t think our local Armenian moralists could do as much for Armenia.
“So what?” the moralists may ask. “Are we supposed to be grateful to this diva?” Yes, we are.
Of course, many people would like to see a great scholar, or, say, a major political figure or an artist as the most famous Armenian… and we do know many such people. But it’s of no consequence – no matter how great and prominent they are, the most famous Armenian today is Kim Kardashian, the star of an American reality TV show.
It’s just that the moralists do not want to accept this reality. But that’s a whole other story.
Mark Grigoryan is a British and Armenian journalist based in Yerevan.
Photos by Mariam Loretsyan / Mediamax.