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

Caucasus Journalists Offered Rare Chance to Meet

IWPR initiative allows Azeri and Armenian reporters to exchange views and work together on assignments.
By IWPR staff
  • Armenian and Azeri journalists meet the governor of the Kvemo Kartli region. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)
    Armenian and Azeri journalists meet the governor of the Kvemo Kartli region. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)

IWPR brought together ten young journalists from Azerbaijan and Armenia in July to report on the problems of national minorities in Georgia. Their reporting was fruitful, but they most of all enjoyed meeting each other.

Azeris and Armenians, until the late 1980s, lived next to each other in cities all across both their homelands. But, when the war broke out over the region of Nagorny Karabakh, they fled to their respective newly independent nations, destroying the mixed communities of the Soviet period.

That means that Azeri journalists like Ragif Raufoglu, 27, who works at Azad Azerbaijan television, had effectively never met an Armenian or exchanged views about the still-ongoing conflict between their two countries.

“This was the first international training session that I’ve taken part in,” he said.

“Such cooperation between neighbouring countries, people that are in conflict with each other could help end the information war between us, and help us write objectively about each other, without emotions. I think all journalists in the Caucasus should work together.”

The July 13-15 training session was organised as part of the Neighbours project, which aims to build relationships between Azeris and Armenians and help them to acquire an objective picture of their two countries’ problems.

The Neighbours project is part of IWPR’s Building Bridges/Building Capacity in the South Caucasus Programme, which is focused on integrated training, reporting and outreach activities to support democracy-building and conflict-resolution throughout the South Caucasus.

On the first day of the mission, participants attended a training workshop on national minority issues. It was conducted by Giorgi Amariani, coordinator of the Civic Integration Programme at the United Nations Association of Georgia, and Zaur Khalilov, director of the Civic Integration Foundation.

For the next two days, the project participants visited Kvemo Kartli and Samtshe-Javakheti, two regions of Georgia with large ethnic Armenian and Azeri populations.

In both of the regions, the journalists met the governors and local residents, as well as representatives of local non-governmental and media organisations. The reports covering the journalistic mission were broadcast by central TV Company PIK, also Marneuly TV station and TV Company Channel 9.

“I have learnt very useful information about the Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities during our mission to Georgia. This trip was very important for me because for the first time in my life, I have met Azeri people and now I can say – yes, I know my neighbours,” said Parandzem Hovhanissyan, 24, from Armenia, who works for the website.

Fellow Armenian journalist Anna Karapetyan, 21, agreed. “I can say that this has changed my opinion of Azeri young people, having had the opportunity to have a calm and even friendly conversation with them,” said Karapetyan, who works for the Armedia website.

“Soon I plan to write an article about the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan railway, and I intend to use the acquaintances I made to gain opinions from Georgia and Azerbaijan.”

She wrote two articles for the site after the mission, which included meetings with top Georgian officials such as David Kirkitadze, governor of the Kvemo Kartli region, which is almost half inhabited by ethnic Azeris.

“It is very important that journalists from Armenia and Azerbaijan arrive here together, and work together covering various issues. Our region is settled by Armenians and Azerbaijanis, this is a perfect example of how these people live peacefully in Georgia,” Kirkitadze said.

Rana Allahverdiyeva, a 22-year-old journalist from the website, said she appreciated being able to meet senior local figures and discuss issues with her colleagues.

“The most important thing for me was the chance to meet the governors, which I did not expect, that was a big surprise. Meetings on such a level showed the serious nature and importance of our training,” she said.

“And also I met new people, and exchanged ideas. This was my first cooperation with IWPR. I liked it very much, it was interesting. In countries like Azerbaijan, where there is almost no free media, journalists really need organisations like IWPR.”