Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have fought early April and not just on the field but also to control the narrative of the international media about their long struggle 28 years old for the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Karabakh conflict has simmered and bubbled during the past 22 years, but in general it has escaped the attention of traditional international journalists. All that changed in the 2 to 5 April with the worst outbreak of violence since the cease-fire in 1994.
However the ability of journalists to cover the conflict varies considerably.
Many foreign journalists were able to enter Karabakh by Armenia unhindered and quickly obtained accreditation upon arrival in the main city, Stepanakert. Local officials de facto held daily press conferences, including question and answer sessions in a central hotel. Public television station offered free satellite links and journalists from Armenia were able to travel independently in civilian vehicles outside the frontline areas.
Every morning, the de facto defense officials and local Karabakh offered to journalists escorted trips in frontline villages such as Talish or Martuni. It was “like a menu in a restaurant, but with only one dish,” joked Gegham Vardanian, editor of a media monitoring site for Initiatives Media Centre based in Yerevan.
On the other side of the divide, journalists found the most difficult conditions. Azerbaijan holds one of the media access control strict policy, particularly in areas close to the front line. The country also has a history of refusing visas to journalists who previously traveled without the consent of Baku in Karabakh and the seven surrounding territories held by Armenian forces and Karabagh.
In a statement on April 12, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has interpreted this policy of aid to foreign media as an Armenian attempt to “deceive the international community and divert attention from the political and legal responsibility that carry the strength of the Armenian army for the subversive and provocative actions. “
Baku has considerable experience of international media blockbusters accommodation, including the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and the European Games in 2015. However, a representative of an international media who managed to cover the conflict in Part Azerbaijan said that press management skills of the government during the surge in Karabakh have been lacking. Speaking to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity, the reporter describes the fast and grueling press tour for journalists from Baku to the front line of “messy”.
“International journalists there [in Karabakh] found themselves filmed much as doing shootings,” said the journalist. “The teams of the Azerbaijani television did a story about us.”
Daylight was fading when the cameraman kept filming the first position, he said. “And when we were taken two hours or more in the next place, it was pitch dark. Not good for the television cameras. “
Some journalists who entered Azerbaijan were arrested or deported. Security officials in the Goranboy region of Azerbaijan have detained and questioned a team of Georgian Rustavi2 television for several hours because they did not have accreditation. After the intervention of Georgian and Azerbaijani diplomats, the crew was able to continue to make his report.
A group of Russian LIFEnews chain, which would allegedly close ties to the Russian security services, was not so lucky. The crew was expelled for lack of accreditation and have also spread the assertion made in the Armenian media that Azerbaijan was using terrorists of the Islamic State against Armenian forces and Karabagh.
The spokesman of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev did not respond to a request for comment.
Karabakh officials appear to have received outside help in the management of dozens of foreign and local journalists. Aside from the 1988-1994 war, the territory has a limited experience with the international media and the local media scene (a television station, a radio station, a newspaper, and a handful of Web sites) that are far be robust.
Barriers aware Samvel Farmanian, former spokesman of the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a native of Karabakh and who speaks English, told EurasiaNet.org that he volunteered to help. Although Armenia and Karabakh have close ties, Farmanian, is now a member of the Republican Party for President and said that nobody ordered him to go.
“It was a kind of self-nomination,” he emailed.
Armenian celebrities have also turned to rally support. The actress Nazeni Hovhannisian (the Azerbaijani media have incorrectly identified as “female sniper”), singer Shushan Petrosian and satirists Narek Margaryan and Sergey Sargsyan were among those who made the six-hour trip from Yerevan. Azerbaijan has made similar efforts or not could not be determined immediately. A march was held in Baku on April 6.
While the separatist Karabakh and Armenia may have been better placed to supply the cycle of international media, Azerbaijan was not without resources.
Michael Cecire, a regional specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said that Azerbaijan has its own sophisticated strategic communications operations in Washington, DC, and Brussels. Over time, “the Azerbaijani perspective of events tended to have the advantage in the pages of many newspapers enjoying a greater international visibility,” he wrote in an email interview.
Three days after the cease-fire was announced on April 5, Azerbaijan agreed to pay his top advisers in US public relations, Podesta Group based in Washington DC, an additional amount of $ 70,000 for three months’ public affairs services, “according to documents filed with the US Department of Justice.
Since January, the Podesta Group benefited from a lobbying contract for six months worth $ 300,000 plus costs with Azerbaijan.
Armenia is not registered with US lobbyists. Much of the presentation for his views on the Karabakh conflict comes through the influential diaspora organizations.
It remains to be seen whether the latest episode of fighting has affected international attention to the unresolved Karabakh conflict. Until this month, Google searches in English for “Karabakh” were rare; almost all research came from Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to Google Trends.
Similarly, as the fighting in April triggered a “social media effusion more active” in the history of the past 28 years of the Karabakh conflict, the impact was internal rather than international, noted Katy Pearce, Assistant Professor communication at the University of Washington.
“Although the message of the Kardashian family [TV-celebrity]” Pray for Armenia “on social media could raise some awareness, I doubt this would have a lasting effect,” a-t- she says.
Robin Forestier-Walker is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi.
Stéphane © armenews.com