Karabakh: First Independent Paper


Ashot Beglarian (01-05-2004)The first non-government publication in the
Armenian-controlled province aims to cover themes which previously went

Setting up an independent newspaper for Nagorny Karabakh has long been a
dream of Gegam Bagdasarian, head of the Stepanakert Press Club. Now
it's happened, and Bagdasarian is editor-in-chief of a twice-monthly
paper called Demo.

The idea behind it was to create a newspaper that is not beholden to the
authorities or any opposition movement, but is a voice for the public at
large – hence the title Demo, as in “democracy”. The paper's 16 pages
are in Armenian and Russian.

“Every citizen should have the chance to know what is actually happening in
his motherland and not just from one source but from several,” explained
Bagdasarian. “We intend to become a really independent source.”

Founding an independent newspaper is a very delicate project in a society
which emerged from a devastating conflict ten years ago. Until now there has
only been one main newspaper, the government publication Azat Artsakh.

Bagdasarian says he is well aware of the sensitivities. “We understand what
a responsible mission we are undertaking, as there is virtually no precedent
in the Armenian information space,” he said. “Demo is trying to become a
free publication in the classic sense, meaning it depends only on the
reader. We are not forcing our views on anyone. When we have a free market,
the reader himself can choose what reason and conscience dictate.”

Karabakh president Arkady Gukasian, himself a former journalist, told IWPR
last month that he welcomed the project. “A free press is a sign of the
formation of civil society,” Gukasian said. “We are now facing the biggest
challenge – helping democracy to take root here.”

But the new paper will undoubtedly create controversy. The first issue
touched on sensitive issues such as the resignation of Karabakh deputy prime
minister Yury Gazarian and a property dispute over a collective farm in the
town of Stepanakert. A column by Boris Navadasardian expressed concern about
Armenian reactions to the recent murder in Budapest of Gurgen Markarian, an
Armenian army officer, by Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov.

Demo is supported by the British-based non-government organisation
Conciliation Resources, as part of a wider consortium which is beginning a
series of projects in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to engage with the Nagorny
Karabakh dispute, with funding from the British government's Conflict
Prevention Pool.

In this spirit, the paper has also set itself the goal of building bridges
across the ceasefire line with Azerbaijan. It is covering events in the
Caucasus as a whole, and is publishing a page of IWPR's Caucasus
articles in each issue.

“We will be publishing articles about events in Azerbaijan, Georgia and
Armenia, trying to fill the information gap that has formed,” said
Bagdasarian. “I hope this will help us find common points of agreement.”

So far, readers have responded positively to Demo. “The articles published
in the newspaper are not only interesting but relevant,” said Armen
Sarkisian, a civil servant. “The whole spectrum of socio-political life in
Nagorny Karabakh is reflected there.”

Albert Voskanian, a well-known local activist who heads Stepanakert's
Centre for Civic Initiatives, said, “It is a lively newspaper which touches
on and investigates topics which are not only interesting but also painful,
and which worry people. I have no doubt it has a future.”

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS