Sharing unheard voices

The Nagorny Karabakh conflict has been marked by a dramatic deterioration in the last few months, following military escalation and the highest number of casualties since the 1994 ceasefire agreement. Coverage of the conflict in the media is under heightened scrutiny and it is becoming increasingly difficult to practice high-quality, uncompromised journalism and offer alternative perspectives.

In this climate, collegiality between Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists is incredibly important, making the space provided by International Alert’s EU-funded Unheard Voices project vital. Since its inception in April 2014, Unheard Voices has grown from six to 46 journalists at various stages in their careers, who contribute materials capturing the lives of ordinary people affected by the unresolved conflict.

Last month, we carried out a training programme in Tbilisi that provided the first opportunity for the newly participating journalists to meet with their counterparts in the project. For some, it was the first experience of working in a group of Armenians and Azerbaijanis, or even of speaking to someone from the other side of the conflict. As one participant reflected:

"I had different expectations about what you would be like. When we go back home, I’ll remember you when I’m writing materials on Azerbaijan."

Another participant said:

"This was the first time I ever spoke to an Armenian and I’m very glad to have had this chance."

As well as providing a much needed dialogue opportunity, the tailor-made programme included an intensive training on conflict journalism skills, covering topics like how to frame a story and avoid indirect hate speech. As a practical assignment, the participants produced joint video and photo reports and interviews in small mixed groups, which they then presented to the whole group and received critical feedback on from senior media experts. This learning-by-doing approach was useful for the journalists to practice their professional skills while exercising mutual respect.

During the event, journalists emphasised a great need for more regular professional training to build and consolidate their skills, including practical and critical supervision components. We plan to hold a follow-up training programme for the participating journalists in April.

This project is supported by the EU as part of the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK). Find out more at www.epnk.org