Karabakh official calls on Armenian journalists to fight”information

Karabakh official calls on Armenian journalists to fight “information war”

Golos Armenii, Yerevan
17 Jun 04

Journalists in Armenia and Karabakh should improve their reporting
of the conflict with Azerbaijan and present Armenia’s case more
clearly, a media official from the self-declared Nagornyy Karabakh
Republic has said. The official called on the Armenian media to
stop their “information pacifism” and make it clear that Azerbaijan
is a “genocidal state” where hatred of Armenians has become state
policy. He said that “Azeri journalists are leading us not to peace
but to war”. The following is the text of De Facto agency director
Karen Zakharyan’s interview with Aleksandr Grigoryan, head of the
NKR president’s main information council, as published by Armenian
newspaper Golos Armenii on 17 June and headlined “To fight means to
fight”; subheadings inserted editorially:

An interview with Aleksandr Grigoryan, head of the NKR [Nagornyy
Karabakh Republic] president’s main information council.

[De Facto agency director Karen Zakharyan] Mr Grigoryan, we have
recently seen a new round of political activity by international
structures, in particular European ones, in the South Caucasus. It
is clear that this increase in activity, irrespective of the reasons
for it, cannot take place in isolation away from the eyes of the mass
media. Do you, as an experienced journalist and also a state official,
think that the Armenian and NKR media have responded appropriately
to this increased activity?

[Aleksandr Grigoryan] Thanks to the media, including the Armenian
media, you learned about the increased activity. Now about the
appropriateness. Its level is defined first of all by social demand,
second by the corporate interests of the media and third by the
professionalism and level of education of journalists. As all these
parameters are not the same in all media, their “appropriateness”
is different. For instance, if today Armenian society is more worried
about domestic political than foreign policy problems, so the media
of Armenia will prefer domestic political issues. Is this approach
appropriate to the increased activity in the South Caucasus? Yes and no
at the same time. Yes – regarding society in Armenia, the interests of
which are today focused mainly on the authorities’ domestic policy. No
– regarding the regional realities, the significance of which far
exceeds the problems within Armenia. That is, under the concept
of “appropriateness” first of all I understand social order. As
for appropriateness in terms of content, the media individually
usually reflect and explain issues stemming from the order of their
proprietors, be they their “benefactors” who may be grant donors,
different parties, the current authorities, ambitious businessmen,
etc. It is another matter whether this benefits society.

Armenian media coverage of Karabakh conflict poor

[Correspondent] Much may be said about the content of the Armenian
mass media. This is a theme for another discussion. As for social
demand, it is directed inwards, rather than towards the problems that
largely define everything else, including domestic problems. How do
you assess coverage of the Karabakh conflict by the Armenian mass
media? Are there differences in coverage of the conflict in Armenia
and the NKR? Why is this?

[Grigoryan] I should say that the level of the Karabakh conflict
coverage by the mass media of Armenia and the NKR is not high. This
applies to almost all the mass media of recognized Armenia and the
unrecognized NKR. If we take the pro-government mass media, they deal
only with advertising specific steps by the leadership to settle
the conflict. On the contrary, the opposition mass media obstruct
the actions of the authorities. And the so-called “independent”
press thinks more about its material prosperity than about the
Karabakh problem. For this reason, the latter often put forward
diametrically opposing thoughts under the cover of what they call
acquainting their consumers with different viewpoints. They may not
agree with me, but I do not see a definite position of the Armenian
mass media on the problem. I do not see a fair interest in coverage of
the problem. Otherwise the mass media would at least try to present
to us the viewpoints of serious politicians and political scientists
from outside Armenia and Karabakh. Moreover, sometimes we come across
material, the authors of which have forgotten that the war with
Azerbaijan has not finished yet. It has simply been transferred to
another plane, the political and economic and information field. The
motherland is protected not only on the battle field. And betrayal
takes place not only at the front. Azeri journalists have learned this
truth very well. We should not forget it either. I am saying this as
a man who has worked for many years in the mass media of Armenia and
Karabakh, as well as Azerbaijan.

Azeri journalists “leading us to war”

[Correspondent] You reluctantly touched on a “painful” theme:
coverage of the Karabakh conflict by the Azerbaijani press. Different
falsifications in the Azeri press on the Karabakh issue have already
set teeth on edge. Nevertheless they are continuing and, to be honest,
sometimes we do not know how to respond to impudent lies, if not to
keep silence. What do the mass media of Armenia need to fight properly
against the Azeri insinuations? It is clear that censorship or any
coordination centre may not be set up – times have changed. But what
then? How can Karabakh be protected from malicious attacks?

[Grigoryan] Azeri journalists are leading us not to peace, but to
war. If somebody is fighting you, you should either fight or surrender,
recognizing that the enemy is right. Different insinuations by the
Azeri press are the tactics of the Azeri mass media. You might object
and say that the Armenian press is also fighting, but it does it
in another way – by means of calling on their Azeri counterparts
to build bridges of trust. But do you not agree that the more we
and our Western sponsors talk about the need to build bridges, the
more aggressive are the attacks of our Azeri counterparts. We have
been so silent that by means of the Azeri mass media, a viewpoint
has been formed about us in the world as “occupiers”, “terrorists”
and other outcasts of the world community. We have to remember: as
long as the top leadership of Azerbaijan aspires to recognize Armenia
as an “aggressor”, we do not have the right to deal in unilateral
information pacifism. Any cease-fire, including an information one,
envisages at least two opposing parties.

I have said several times that the Armenian information machine
has to call things by their names. The realities are the following:
Azerbaijan is a genocidal state; aggressive Armeno-phobia has reached
the level of Azerbaijani state policy; official Baku is fighting the
whole Armenian nation, not only Armenia and Karabakh. Tell me please,
may a Russian or Turkish citizen of Armenian origin, who has nothing
to do with Karabakh or Armenia, buy a ticket in Moscow or Ankara and
go to the capital city of Azerbaijan and walk freely along the streets
of Baku? Certainly he cannot. Official Baku does not even allow state
leaders of Armenian origin to attend any international events taking
place there. “We do not knock at the door of the enemy, but the enemy
aspires to come to us,” one of the top officials of Azerbaijan said
recently. How can we pay compliments to the enemy in the information
field when there are such realities? Whether we want it or not,
by means of our information peacekeeping we are confusing the world
community, which has forgotten why the Armenians of Karabakh want to
separate themselves de jure from Azerbaijan, and believes more in the
fairy story about Armenian “aggression”. Freedom of speech should be
kept everywhere, but not during coverage of our enemy’s behaviour,
if we intend to conti nue to prove to the world why the Karabakhis
opted for self-determination.

[Correspondent] It stems from your words that journalists of Armenia
and Karabakh should become like their Azeri counterparts. By the way,
I used to meet them at events organized by the NKR Foreign Ministry
in Stepanakert. They are pleasant, nice boys, who are interested in
talking and drinking vodka. Do you not think that an “information
war” concept is not appropriate, if we aspire to a real settlement
of the conflict?

[Grigoryan] The Baku members of the KVN [satirical comedy team]
were also pleasant when they performed with our boys. But this did
not stop the captain of the Baku team, Anar Mammadxanov (by the way,
a deputy in parliament) announcing recently that Armenians should be
killed in Karabakh. I would like to be understood correctly. I am
not talking about comparing our journalists to the Baku ones. I am
saying that our information machine should make the Azeri one prove
every time that Azerbaijan is not a genocidal country, that Armenians
can any time come to Baku and walk along the Baku seafront. If the
mass media of Azerbaijan will start proving this to us, Armenians,
in that case the time for an information cease-fire will have come
and the information war will stop. But at the moment not they, but we
are trying to prove to the world the known truth that we do not wish
anything bad on Azerbaijan. Moreover, there are people among us who
from time to time try to “explain” to Azeris why Armenians allegedly
are not inclined to compromise. Where is the way out? The way out
is in the behaviour of each of us, workers in the Armenian mass
media. The way out is in knowing the mentality of Azeri journalists,
in knowing political thought in Azerbaijan, finally in knowing oneself
as a journalist and in defining one’s own priorities, irrespective
of the domestic political juncture in Armenia and Karabakh and the
size of external grants. Azerbaijan also gets grants, but they have
not promoted love for Armenians.

Balance needed in information war

[Correspondent] It is clear. Nevertheless I would like to know the role
of the information field as one of the main means of influencing the
conflict. Recently a page has appeared on the BBC web site specially
dedicated to the Nagornyy Karabakh settlement. To be honest, judging
from the talk of professional journalists and ordinary people on the
problem of the Karabakh settlement, I do not hope for an information
armistice in future. But the organizers of the page seem to hope for
one. They may be understood, but are they not naive in their noble
aspirations? What hampers the realization of these aspirations? How
can the “information support” of the BBC and other such initiators
promote settlement of the problem?

[Grigoryan] To be honest, I do not trust the effectiveness of such
measures as “sites of support” or “TV bridges” when we speak about
today’s Azerbaijan. If those measures were useful, one could use them
all the time and settle the problem. The realities are diametrically
opposite. The reality is that such an authoritative and respected,
decent journalist, Mais Mammadov, who earlier was the USSR central
TV correspondent on Azerbaijan, and who visited Karabakh many
times and really knows our problems, today comes forward in the Baku
pro-government press with a call for war against Armenians. “Today we
need titanic efforts to return Karabakh,” Mais Mammadov says “We again
have to prepare ourselves for a possible war. Because as the ancients
say, this is the shortest way to peace.” Mais Mammadov’s words mean
to me the end of hope for an armistice on the information and other
fronts. It is important for me that such people as Mais Mammadov, but
not dubious Azeri human rights protectors speak about peace, as they
have no authority in Azeri society. It is necessary that [authors]
Anar, Rustam and Maqsud Ibrahimbayov speak about bridges of trust,
because the Azeri nation trusts them. KVN captain Anar Mammadxanov and
finally Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, but not [rights activists]
Eldar Zeynalov or Arzu Abdullayeva should speak about bridges of trust.

[Correspondent] Does it mean war again?

[Grigoryan] If today the cease-fire is kept by the balance of forces,
there should also be a balance in the information war as well. Breaking
the balance in the information war will unavoidably lead to breaking
the balance in the public consciousness of Armenian and Azeri society,
which in its turn may lead to imbalance in the military sphere as
well, that is, to a new war. I think this is the main role of the
influence of the Armenian mass media on their own and other nations
while we have a conflict with our irreconcilable neighbour.