International Alert has launched a new project called ‘Unheard Voices’, to share the stories of ordinary people whose lives are affected by the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the Nagorny Karabakh war. Yet for people living along the ‘line of contact’ and Armenia-Azerbaijan border, the conflict is still part of their daily lives. Military and civilian deaths are a regular occurrence and there is little contact between the societies. Tensions between them are further exacerbated by the relentless war rhetoric and enemy images that dominate the mainstream media coverage of the conflict.
Unheard Voices gives journalists from leading media outlets in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh the opportunity to share articles and video reports about the lives of those affected by the conflict on a joint platform. It gives a voice to ordinary people suffering from the direct results of the ongoing conflict and shows the human side of the conflict – in the journalists’ own societies as well as on the other side of the divide. The journalists post their articles in Russian on a joint Facebook page and also in Armenian and Azeri through mainstream online media agencies. Audiences can follow and comment on the posts, and share them with people they know.
By exposing the public to the human cost of the conflict, Unheard Voices hopes to encourage support for greater tolerance and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The journalists’ reports also aim to provoke greater public discussion on all sides of the conflict and encourage audience members to share their own experiences and identify common challenges.
The reports focus on the everyday lives of communities living near the frontline, often just a few hundred metres apart. Individual stories of family migration and displacement on both sides highlight the feelings of longing. The psychological loss of people affected by the conflict is a common thread, as well as the security and socio-economic challenges faced when living in the conflict zone. Individuals on the different sides express feelings of sadness at the absence of trust between once-friendly neighbours and some remember with fondness the days before the war when Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived side by side. One lady interviewed notes: "They probably also live with such doubts on the other side of the border. Most likely they don’t want war either. It’s not their fault either that war broke out."
Unheard Voices is part of our ongoing work to strengthen conflict reporting skills and improve links across the Nagorny Karabakh conflict divide. The project started following a meeting of media professionals from the region in London back in March, organised by Alert, which aimed to develop cross-conflict media collaboration. It is a rare opportunity for journalists to provide an alternative narrative on the conflict and engage with colleagues from across the divide.
This project is part of the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK), an initiative funded by the European Union.