Washington discussion: What's next on exchange of journalists between Azerbaijan and Armenia?

Washington welcomes the recently concluded exchange of journalists from Armenia and Azerbaijan, facilitated by the OSCE Personal Representative, a senior US State Department official told TURAN"s U.S. correspondent.

"Measures such as this exchange prepare the populations for peace and reduce tensions," the source said.

Earlier last month, in a landmark exchange, Azerbaijani and Armenian journalists made mutual visits to the other side  — the first exchange of its kind in almost two decades — under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group.

"Obviously, for those of us who are interested in freedom of the press, exchange of information and people-to-people contact, this [exchange of journalists] was a very good news," said Kenneth Yalowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, during a panel discussion last week at the Georgetown University on the state of media and the role of journalists in the South Caucasus in the context of the broader regional trends in civil society and governance.

Unlike officials and independent experts in Washington, journalists from the South Caucasus are viewing the move with skeptical optimism.

"Such trips [of journalists] have been seen in the past too," said Sevinj Osmanqizi, the host of an online TV program "Osmanqizi TV, which discusses political issues in Azerbaijan: "The number of reporters that are taking part of the current exchange program – three from each sides - really a drop in the ocean," she added.

For Osmanqizi, one cannot overestimate the importance of media freedom when talking about exchange of journalists between Baku and Yerevan.

In Azerbaijan, she said, there are over 600 media outlets, albeit "unfortunately, it doesn’t really translate into pluralism, or press freedom." Aside from a few exceptions, there isn't much free media left in the country nowadays. "Most of them have been forced to leave the country, while some others either got imprisoned, or shot down their news outlets," she said.

In the meantime, she added, there is a new generation growing in Azerbaijan that were born after the Karabalh war and "they believe in a war," thanks to the government propaganda machine. The longer the conflict continues, Osmangizi believes, the Karabakh card is being used by the governments of both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

For Arsen Kharatyan, the editor-in-chief of Armenian-Georgian media platform “Aliq Media", the fact that there is an agreement between the parties on exchange of journalists "is a good start, considering that there is a major change in Armenia."

"Yes, there has been a lot more confidence-building back in the 1990s than today. But currently we have a new, and probably, the most legitimate administration in Armenia's history, which doesn't need to speculate on the conflict in order to stay in power," Kharatyan, who until recently served as an advisor to the Prime Minister of Armenia on foreign affairs after the Velvet revolution, argued.

In the meantime, he added, the most of the media outlets currently operating in Armenia - about 90 percent - are owned by the previous regime, which are "constantly bombarding" PM Nikol Pashinyan's government. "There are a number or democracy spoilers - both at home, and in the neighborhood - that we have to deal with" he said.

While the recent exchange of journalists between Baku and Yerevan facilitated by the OSCE Personal Representative, "there is also an initiative coming from the U.S. govenrment to get involved in this," Kharatyan said. "Where this all will bring us, let's live and see," he concluded.

Alex Raufoglu

Washington D.C.


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