We seek to enable the efforts of scholars, analysts and policy-makers to examine these thickets of political immobility from as many perspectives as possible. It is rare, however, for any of these issues to be squarely examined solely through the lens of local news media coverage.
Which is why we are so impressed by the effort organized over three days last week by Istanbul’s Global Political Trends Center, or GPOT, and the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation that brought together reporters and editors from three countries: Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Their task was to examine the intersection of effort to make peace over the mire of Nagorno-Karabagh – the principle divide between Armenia and Azerbaijan – and journalism.
One would not expect a great deal of agreement among scribes of these three particular countries. But the accord was nearly universal that the lack of a free press in the region is a chief culprit in the chilling of any effort at progress.
Without a free press, minds and attitudes remain captive to government propaganda and nationalist rhetoric, all argued.
“The coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as it is currently done is not sustainable,” Armenian journalist Boris Navasardian told the conference. “The manipulation and psychological strain it puts not only on conflict resolution but also on society and the development of society are of concern.”
Arif Aliyev, chairman of Yeni Nesil (New Generation), Azerbaijan’s journalists’ union, agreed. He bemoaned the lack of diversity in the Azerbaijani media, which he said has a significant influence on public opinion. “The opposition hasn’t had airtime for the last two years,” Aliyev said.
Perhaps the vicious circles in conflict created by narrow, government-created media prisms should be obvious. The role of U.S. propaganda in securing public support for the invasion of Iraq has been well established, for example. But we know of few efforts akin to this work newly undertaken by GPOT and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in other contexts. And we find it extremely valuable.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were respectively ranked 111th and 146th out of 175 countries last year in the Reporters Without Borders freedom of the press index. As Turkish journalists, our lot is better but certainly precarious.
Connecting these failures of journalism and peace-making is rare, if not unique. This novel project, and the brave journalists who came together to share their perspectives, is the strongest source of hope we can imagine for Nagorno-Karabakh specifically and regional peace-making generally.
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