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IWPR sent a group of 11 journalists representing different countries in the Caucasus to report on the presidential elections in Armenia in February.
The party comprised journalists from the North Caucasus, Georgia, Abkhazia and was led by IWPR Armenia country director Seda Muradyan, IWPR Caucasus programme director Margarita Akhvlediani and IWPR editor in Georgia Sopho Bukia. During the course of the mission, February 15-21, the participants met local experts and politicians, journalists and presidential candidates.
On the first day, the journalists traveled to the city Abovyan, to witness the rally of presidential candidate, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. On the same day, they covered the rally of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, with one of the group, Irakli Managadze, posting stories about the event on Interpressnews site and reporting live for Radio Mwvane Talga.
Participants also separately met two other candidates Vazgen Manukyan, chairman of the National Democratic Union, and Vahan Hovhannissian, deputy parliamentary chairman of the Dashnaktsutyun Party, in their offices.
On February 17, the journalists spoke to Shavarsh Kocharyan, leader of the National Democratic Party, and Hrant Khachatryan, head of the Constitutional Right Union. Both politicians support Manukyan.
Two round tables were organised on February 18, involving the journalists and political analysts Alexander Iskandaryan and David Petrosian. In addition, Yerkir Media TV prepared a special report about IWPR’s CCJN mission, which was broadcast several times.
On February 18, participants visited Internews Armenia and met Gegham Vardanyan, the editor-in-chief, and young journalists and student journalists working there.
As a result of that meeting Akhra Smir from Abkhazia, traveled to the city of Echmiadzin with a group of Internews journalists to cover the elections.
On election day, February 19, participants were divided into groups, working in the capital and rural areas. They interviewed the main presidential candidates and senior officials after they had voted.
The journalists also traveled to Abovyan, where they spoke to electoral commission members, and representatives of candidates who had been subjected to violence while carrying out their work.
The participants took part in the press conferences of the different political parties during and after the election. They also attended the press briefings of the central electoral committee and international observers.
As a result of the mission, the journalists wrote a joint story, Voting Incidents Mar Armenian Election, for IWPR’s CRS, published on February 20, 2008. The participants also wrote stories for their own newspapers.
Dimitri Avaliani, from the Georgian newspaper 24 Hours, said he gained much from the mission, “It is simply excellent to work in a group with colleagues. I learnt a lot of things about Abkhazia and the North Caucasus as well; we spent a lot of time discussing election-related issues and making comparisons.”
Anaid Gogoryan from the newspaper Chegemsskaya Pravda in Abkhazia says that her reporting from Armenia was praised back home.
“My readers contacted me after they read my stories and said that they watched Russian television and the coverage of elections was very one-sided. They said that my stories gave them a more realistic picture of how the elections went,” said Gogoryan.
“I really appreciate the possibility to be at the centre of events. Too bad we could not stay for the events that took place afterwards - however, witnessing the elections was a unique opportunity.”
Diana Alieva, from the newspaper Svobodnaya Respublika in Dagestan, says she appreciated meeting journalists from other countries too, since reporters from regional press in Russia very seldom have the chance to travel outside of Russia.
“I think I was the only journalist representing Russian regional press in Armenia during the elections,” she said. “In our hotel we had people from many different countries. For me it was a real eye-opener to talk to them and hear how western media work during elections.”
Alieva said she also got good feedback after her stories were published, “We have a substantial Armenian minority in Dagestan and people appreciated reading first-hand reporting of the Armenian elections in their own paper.”
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