I have to restate the position of Yerevan Press Club and that of myself as to the contacts of Armenia and Azerbaijani journalists. Unfortunately, my words at the meeting with Armenian journalists on November 13 were given incorrect interpretation and response both within Armenia and beyond it, primarily in Azerbaijan. Some people evidently found it very advantageous for themselves to present the situation as YPC announcing, as protest, suspension of contacts with Azerbaijani partners. Therefore, our approaches must be additionally explained.
First, it was not a “declaration” or moreover, a “demarch” made at the meeting. These were purely some considerations that Press Club traditionally shares with the colleagues, having completed a certain stage of its activities.
Second, the opinions voiced at the meeting were not a direct response to specific events or publications that occurred during the recent visit of Armenian journalists to Baku, but a result of a lengthy analysis of the situation with YPC members, media representatives from Armenia, as well as with our Azerbaijani colleagues, other foreign partners of our organization. That is, there was nothing new for the people, closely linked together by cooperation in what was said on November 13. And in this regard I assure them that YPC has taken no unilateral actions or decisions.
Yet, our constant partners do not have grounds to question the reliability of Press Club as it is, and we are equally sure of our partners. I address these assurances mostly to those who might be misinformed by the arbitrary (whether deliberately or not) interpretation of my words. I also exclude the possibility that what was said at the meeting with journalists was unclear or ambiguous. All the media, which produced stories about the meeting not by someone else’s account but directly from the site gave in general a correct coverage to this, with no sensational touches, unsuitable for the occasion. Out of their reports published no conclusion could be drawn that we are suspending the bilateral contacts.
We, the YPC representatives visiting Baku from October 29 to November 1 this year, found the insults, threats, absurd concoctions of a number of Azerbaijani media to the address of the guests and our hosts outrageous. We could not but react to this discharge of malice and lies, could not leave it unanswered. However, this behavior of media added nothing new to the evaluation of the current stage of the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the change in strategy on the surge of emotions is not in the line of our organization.
Thus, the accent in the stories on the meeting, that created the hullabaloo, was made on “YPC is induced to stop the mutual visit exchange between Armenian and Azerbaijani Journalists”, on “the method of popular diplomacy at this stage has exhausted itself”. These very statements need explanation.
As it was mentioned during the meeting with journalists in Yerevan, the strategy of the joint work of YPC and its regional partners was based on the three main dimensions: 1) Discussion of urgent regional problems and their possible solutions with the participation of journalists and representatives of civil society (a phenomena, conventionally called “popular diplomacy”); 2) Assistance to journalists and the organization of working trips in the region and meetings with the leading politicians, public figures and experts to receive “first-hand” information (the physical transportation of journalists can be supplemented by virtual interviews and press-conferences using the modern communication technologies); 3) Creation of joint regional products facilitating the information exchange and gaining insight into the situation (periodical electronic and print newsletters, web sites, TV and radio programs, surveys, media monitoring, etc.). Only the first out of these directions, never a priority for YPC, was mentioned to have exhausted itself under the present conditions. The two others remain topical and, moreover, tend to develop.
Yet, first we need to come back to the “popular diplomacy”. I think it necessary to emphasize that speaking about our refusal from this direction we made it clear that: a) this step is of temporary nature, and, as the situation changes, “popular democracy” may again become topical for YPC; b) we do not exclude the possibility that this urgency is still present for other organizations and individuals.
Thus, the meetings in the popular diplomacy line stopped being effective for us and under the present conditions specifically. During the previous years these meetings played their important part, enabling the South Caucasus journalists to compare their attitudes, learn to listen to each other and see no enemy in those who think differently. Owing to the direct contacts the information exchange was established and the most advanced professionals and organizations initiated and – with the assistance of foreign partners and donors – started to realize joint programs, corresponding to the common interests.
At the same time, the meetings and discussion cannot become a purpose as such. However frequent they are, a limited, rather narrow group of people can participate in them. The value of such contacts is that the projects born during them, the attitudes, the models of problem solution were revealed to the public at large, influenced the public opinion, the decision-makers. In this regard journalists, being among the first to get the direct contacts going, are unmatched in this capability of instilling ideas of tolerance, mutual compromise, eliminating “the enemy image” by means of objective information.
Until recently, whatever the problems were, we definitely observed positive changes in the content and form of media coverage of the regional issues, in particular those that are related to Armenia and Azerbaijan. It became possible to more often visit the territories previously banned, interview the political leaders of the opposing party in the conflict. TV and radio bridges were aired, allowing having public dialog on all the issues of concern to the parties.
And if some people, participating in the joint programs have “suddenly” started today to directly call on their compatriots to punish those who participate in the contacts of Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists, it means there have appeared serious reasons and factors defeating the principles of fair and constructive journalism. One can analyze these factors, forecast their strengthening or weakening, but we are too respectful of the professionalism of our colleagues who chose to take radical positions, to think they do not understand what they are engaged in and why. It would be absurd to again invite them to workshops and conferences of peace-making nature, to try and cure “xenophobia” together. It would be absurd and dangerous because some people are very skillful in using such meetings to artificially intensify the tension. This would no longer be popular diplomacy, but rather provocative activities, and YPC will never tolerate involving itself in this.
At the same time, we keep campaigning against informational isolation from each other. The visits of journalist aimed at giving more comprehensive information to the public about the state of affairs in the neighboring country will still receive all kinds of support on behalf of YPC. But one should not view the people coming and going with specific professional tasks as peace-makers, authorized “to give” or “to take” Karabagh. They at best establish civilized informational conditions, suitable for 21st century, to have dialog on various levels. It is about the same purpose that our joint studies and periodicals issued serve. These very two directions are viewed by YPC and its partners to be the most effective and full of potential today.
My colleagues, visiting Azerbaijan lately, are criticized for making statements that disturb the local public. There were even some announcements made that the Armenian journalists are performing propaganda assignments of their political circles. I am quite responsible in stating: YPC is absolutely against any politicization of its programs. No internal or external political views of our employees are in any way reflected in their work. In particular, our last visit to Baku had only one purpose: to discuss the result of the jointly conducted research with our partners from Baku Press Club. The meeting was not supposed to have publicity, and the appearance on air or on newspaper pages of the opinions voiced by Armenian journalists is solely a result of the insistent inquisitiveness of their colleagues from Azerbaijani media.
The activities of YPC are completely open and transparent, for this reason its representatives are ready to answer and they do answer any media questions, also those referring to Karabagh conflict, yet their judgment in this area needs to be viewed as purely personal. Our opinions can, by the way, be quite different, and it is quite normal, because they neither reflect the political platform of YPC (which is actually non-existent) nor the position of the official Yerevan. And if the Azerbaijani public is intolerant to certain attitudes, why then these sensitive issues are touched? It seems strange, when a guest is asked for an interview, is asked questions that have no relevance to the purpose of his visit, but when giving a sincere answer, is called a propagandist at best and a spy and a terrorist at worst!
I must emphasize it is absolutely not all publications of Azerbaijani media that caused perplexity and indignation. And we value greatly the discretion of those who do not create the unsuitable commotion and fuss regarding the mutual visits of the journalist of our two countries, viewing this to be normal work.
We regret that the circumstances induce us to make similar statements and hope for the better times to come…
President of Yerevan Press Club