A Hero of Independent Media
The founder of Glasnost died yesterday but so did one of Glasnost’s staunchest defenders
Everyone I know who traveled to the former Soviet Union and worked there during that all-too-brief window of openness in the 1990s had someone watching their back. For me that person was Manana Aslamazyan. On August 30th, 2022 she was blindsided by a car in Yerevan, Armenia and killed. She turned 70 this year.
Retrograde thinkers of the Stalinist variety might tag her as a “cosmopolitan.” In this I’d agree with them. She was a woman of the world, endlessly open to new ideas, completely color and culture blind
An unexpected end is never fitting, but Manana’s was, in a way, framing. That she should die the same day as Mikhail Gorbachev brings into bold relief the death of a spark of free-thinking that was lit in Russia in the 1980s. A spark that jumped around haphazardly sometimes bursting into full flame through the 1990s; a spark that was relentlessly pursued and snuffed out by Vladimir Putin and Russia’s security services in the 2010s and 20s.
Born Maria Aslamazyan in Yerevan, friends and family started calling her by the Georgian name “Manana” because they said she had a Georgian face. It’s hard for me to say whether this is true. From my perspective, Manana’s face was always sympathetic, mirthful and ironic all at once. Retrograde thinkers of the Stalinist variety might tag her look and affect as “cosmopolitan.” In this I’d agree with them. She was a woman of the world, endlessly open to new ideas, completely color and culture blind and yet deeply proud of the best parts of Russian and Armenian art and ideas.
Why was Manana important? Let me count the television stations. For over a decade Manana ran Internews Russia, a nongovernmental organization that supported independent media in the former Soviet Union. Many different Americans and Europeans came through the Moscow office, including the writer of this essay, but none of us would have made an inch’s headway had Manana not guided us selflessly throughout her tenure. Indeed, whether it was the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre which she helped run in…