Wikipedia is one of the world's most visited websites. It is also popular in the South Caucasus. Yet what is popular differs.
With the help of George Melashvili, who teaches at Free University in Tbilisi, I used a specialized data interface to compile a list of the 100 most visited entries in Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian between July 2015 and July 2023. Here's what I found interesting:
Georgia's Wikipedia usage shows a predilection for its regal heritage, particularly from the medieval period and earlier. King David Aghmashenebeli (David the Builder, who reigned from 1089 to 1125 CE) is the fourth most visited page on Georgian Wikipedia, followed by Queen Tamar (1184-1213) at number five, Erekle II (1762-98) at number ten, Vakhtang Gorgasali (mid 4th-early 5th century CE) was eleventh, and the pre-Christian Parnavaz I came in at 28.
Poets and writers - and their works - are also popular, led by Ilia Chavchavadze (8), the Knight in the Panther Skin (12), Vazha Pshavela (14), Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (20), Shota Rustaveli (23), Akaki Tsereteli (25) and Galaktion Tabidze (32), and the playwright and director Sandro Akhmeteli (40), to take from the top 50 entries.
Armenian usage suggests a strong interest in culture. Seventeen of the 30 most viewed entries relate to culture and language. The poet Hovhannes Tumanyan is the second most viewed entry - after the country Armenia itself. Yeghishe Charents (6), a prominent poet, is followed by the composer Komitas (8), the poet Hovhannes Shiraz (10), the painter Martiros Saryan (15), the poet and writer Paruyr Sevak (16), and the writer and public activist Avetik Isahakyan (17).
In both Georgia and Armenia, no living politician is among the 100 most visited pages.
In Azerbaijan, recent historical grievances are a key focus. Ten of the top 30 entries relate squarely to nationalism or national trauma. The "Khojaly Genocide" (an episode in 1992, during the First Karabakh War, where Armenian troops massacred hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians) is the second most visited entry, followed by the list of "Martyrs of the Second Karabakh War", Black January for the killings by Soviet troops in Baku in 1990 (7) and Mübariz İbrahimov (13) a soldier who went on a rogue attack on Armenian positions in 2010. The former president, Heydar Aliyev, is venerated (6). Ilham Aliyev (22), Heydar's son and the current president, comes in just ahead of the Prophet Muhammad (23).
Women are systematically underrepresented across Wikipedia in the South Caucasus. The Georgian Queen Tamar is the only woman in the top 20 across the three countries. Science and scientists appear to be of marginal interest, though geography and grammar are highly sought-after topics.
Beyond the first main focus on culture, topics that many browse rather than talk about are particularly popular in Armenia. The three-letter basics of reproduction are at number three and two other acts of that sort figure in the top 100, along with three articles on female reproductive health. One wonders if it is common in Armenia for young people to seek information on the birds and the bees from Wikipedia instead of from their parents.
Skimming the entries does provide interesting leads. Azerbaijan's most visited artist is the composer Uzeyier Hajibeyov (19), the father of Azerbaijani classically composed music, whose works have been played by Yo-Yo Ma. Spotify has an engaging playlist of his music.
There are quirks. Across the three countries, the single most visited page – ahead of the countries themselves – is the entry for Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan separatist politician, with about half a million page visits in each country. Less than 0.2% of the visits are from a mobile device, when otherwise this is the dominant way of accessing information now. It's logical to attribute this to inauthentic activity. The mobilization of Russian bots in support of the cause of Catalan separatism is well documented.
Individual articles often differ greatly. Readers in Armenia and Georgia have access to a fairly comprehensive entry on Salman Rushdie. For Azerbaijani readers, there is no information on the near-fatal assault on the writer in August 2022 yet.
Wikipedia in the region rests on few shoulders. While Azerbaijan lists more than 600 active users and Armenia has 450 active users, Georgia has just a bit more than 200 - about the number you could place into a midsized Tbilisi restaurant.
Arguably, more people should get involved. On key issues, local language information remains sparse. Take inflation: the Georgian entry is less than an 80th of the length of the English-language version, even though the issue is also pressing for many households.
The limitations extend not only to local languages - many major Caucasus issues remain undercovered in English entries on Wikipedia. In an ideal world, writing for Wikipedia would be integrated into higher education. Microcontributions to knowledge could add important information, rather than writing yet another exam that will be read once and thereafter discarded. In the meantime, Wikipedia continues to rely on engaged citizens to add and edit information.
Wikipedia is where people go to read about the world. What they end up reading, in turn, also tells us about people. In this regard, Wikipedia can truly be a marvel of discovery.
Hans Gutbrod teaches at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. One of his more recent Wikipedia contributions is on the Writer's House of Georgia.