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

Caucasus: May ‘08

Journalists learn to deal with trauma and get unique insight into life in the Pankisi Gorge.
Participants in the Cross Caucasus Journalism Network learnt how to deal with the stresses of covering shocking stories in a unique workshop on May 28, organised jointly with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

There’s little in the way of psychological support or training for journalists in the Caucasus covering traumatic incidents or situations.

The workshop was led by Frank Ochberg, who edited the first text on treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and is a well-known advocate of cooperation between journalists and trauma experts.

During the one-day workshop, which was followed by a trip to the Pankisi Gorge, eight journalists from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the unrecognised republic of Nagorny Karabakh, shared their experience of working with victims of wars and violence.

One of the participants, Eka Janashia from Georgia, said that she doesn’t report on conflict anymore, a decision she took ten years ago after covering fighting between Georgians and Abkhaz.

At the time, she said what she found particularly distressing was that people being shot at were turning to journalists for help. She said the experience prompted her to leave journalism for a whole year.

Sabuhi Mammadli from Azerbaijan spoke about witnessing the aftermath of a massacre of children, after which he said he had nightmares for a long time.

Ochberg discussed the journalists’ experiences and gave them an overview of PTSD.

Three Georgian psychologists also attended the workshop, relating their experiences of working with war victims, internally displaced people and other vulnerable groups.

The second day of the workshop was spent visiting the Pankisi Gorge, a remote region inhabited by the Kist minority and Chechen refugees, which has acquired a reputation, some say unfairly, as a haven for criminals.

This part of the Kakheti region of Georgia is located near Chechen border. Several years ago, Russian forces attacked the gorge, believing it was being used as a Chechen rebel base.

During the visit, the journalists met ordinary families, officials, religious leaders, refugees from Chechnya and others.

The trip was a rare opportunity for journalists in the region to gain a first-hand view of life in the gorge.

The head of the Coordination Centre for Refugees from Chechnya, Ziaudi Idigov, said, “I am glad to hear that IWPR sent so many journalists here in order to report the real situation, not scandals. I have not seen such well-informed journalists for a long time. In certain situations, the journalists are the only hope that the refugees from Chechnya have to make their lives better.”

The journalists were informed of the provisions international law makes for the protection of internally displaced people and minorities.

Over twenty stories highlighting the situation in the gorge were published after the visit.

“This visit was very interesting. I must admit that, like the majority of Georgians, I used to think the Pankisi is a nest of fighters and terrorists from Chechnya. I now understand that the situation in the gorge is peaceful, and the refugees living there have nothing to do with terrorists. The story about Pankisi just wrote itself after this visit,” said Lali Papaskiri from the newspaper Kviris Palitra in Tbilisi.

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