Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenia: Media Reach Out to Turkey

But commentators say they should not be too quick to let down their guard.
By David Muradian
Armenians, long accustomed to negative depictions of Turkey in the national media, have found themselves confronted by a more nuanced view since the two countries completed peace talks.



And media companies are reaching out to Turkey as well, with two new web sites launched in Turkish since protocols paving the way for diplomatic relations were signed in October.



But viewers remain unconvinced, saying it will take more than a few news stories to change their opinion of Turkey, since they have grown up learning that their compatriots were the victims of genocide in Ottoman Turkey during World War One.



And commentators say that Armenian companies should not be too quick to let down their guard.



Before the protocol signing ceremony, Armenian public television showed a report of an Armenian woman who had married a Turk and had to travel a long way to see her family because of the closed border. It was an unusually sympathetic approach for the channel to take, and commentators dismissed it as crude propaganda.



“The Armenians are trying to show that ‘Turks are good’ and this policy is intended to confuse our opinion and does not reflect reality, since the Turks are continuing an anti-Armenian policy,” said Vahram Miraqian, a commentator on media issues.



“The new strategy to rethink history and undermine the foundations of the historical memory of our world view, started at the same time as the policy of establishing friendly Turkish-Armenian relations.”



The peace deal between the two countries, although it has been signed, has not yet been ratified. Samvel Martirosian, another expert in the use of the media, said Armenian television should wait until the protocols were approved before coming off a war footing.



“An illusion is being created that Turkey has suddenly become a friendly country,” he said.



“But in fact, everything has remained how it was; there has been no change in relations with Turkey, just a desire to change them. But even when you are watching one channel, you get the impression that they are talking about two different countries: one a friend; and the other a savage enemy.”



Nonetheless, the sites www.news.am and www.tert.am have reached out to Turkish-speaking readers with new sections. Sonya Apresova, one of the editors of www.tert.am, admitted website owners had been motivated by the peace process to reach out across the border.



“Our readers are mainly Armenians living in Turkey, and they have repeatedly asked us to give them the possibility of receiving information first-hand. We are translating that part of the news that might be interesting to people living outside Armenia. This is mainly about foreign and internal politics,” she said.



But such a project does not find approval from Gagik Harutiunian, chairman of the Noravank think tank, who pushes for the state to continue to counter Turkish and Azerbaijani positions on controversial issues.



The two sides differ over whether the deaths of thousands of Armenians during World War One was genocide – which Turkey and Azerbaijan deny – and over the status of the Nagorny Karabakh republic. Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan under communism but its resident Armenians broke free of Baku’s control and declared independence when the Soviet Union collapsed.



Harutiunian said Azeri and Turkish media showed a united front on the two issues, and that any Armenian relaxation could see it losing the “information war”.



Ara Saghatalian, head of the President's Centre for Public Relations, said he and colleagues were doing all they could to present Armenia’s view of such controversies.



Harutiunian, however, said the government did not do enough to combat propaganda from Armenia's neighbours, saying it could pose a real threat to the country.



As for Armenia, it broadcasts an Azeri-language radio programme every day for 15 minutes, which normally concentrates on Karabakh, but radio managers do not see themselves as propagandists.



“Our aim is to be a link between the normal people of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” said Amasia Hovhannisian, the deputy director of Public Radio.



“Now, parallel with the conflict, the problem is mutual miscomprehension and distrust, and we, with the help of these programmes, are trying to become a bridge [to defuse] the conflict, not to provoke it, since in the end the conflict will be resolved and we will have to live as neighbours.”



David Muradian is a reporter with the AR TV Company in Yerevan. Sara Khojoian is a reporter with ArmeniaNow.com online in Yerevan and a member of IWPR's Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.

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