Last month ten Armenian and Azerbaijani media professionals travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to attend an intensive conflict study programme organised by International Alert.
The trip was part of our broader programme supported by the European Union and UK Conflict Pool which involves working with journalists from the Nagorny Karabakh conflict context.
Over the last two decades the Nagorny Karabakh conflict has increasingly isolated the societies from one another. Today journalists across the conflict divide have few opportunities to interact with their counterparts. In a climate of increasing tension around the conflict, war rhetoric in the media is escalating.
This initiative gave mid-career journalists from mainstream media agencies an opportunity to develop professionally, build relationships across the conflict divide and learn from peacebuilding experience in the notoriously complex case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over ten days, the group travelled together to different parts of the country to learn first-hand about the factors behind breakthroughs in the peace process, as well as challenges and successes in implementing peace agreements, the roles of civil society and the media in peacebuilding, and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democratic transition over the past two decades.
The trip included meetings with key players and experts from the local, national and international level in Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Mostar, Banjaluka and Prijedor. The journalists also had the chance to meet both the High Representative and EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the mayors of Mostar and Srebrenica, academic experts, and civil society and media representatives, including the head of the country’s Journalists’ Association. They also took part in joint discussions to explore current trends in the media in their societies and common challenges they face, and to share reflections on their study of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists, opportunities to work together on a conflict case study are rare. The joint experience of this programme gave participants new connections and critical perspectives on their own context and work, as well as insights from a different peace process. In group reflections, some journalists noted that they had changed roles from an object of study in one conflict context to agents of study in another. For one, this was ‘an experience of heightened professionalism’, in which they adopted a more critical and sensitive approach to their work than when reporting on their own conflict. Another reflected: ‘I think all of this will help me to re-think some things, and to think carefully about the words and expressions I use ... when I recount tragedies that took place.’
Insights from the study programme are now reaching the wider public in the South Caucasus, as the journalists share them with their audiences through major online media outlets, TV and radio channels, and print publications. Through their eyes, ordinary people in the region are able to see how victims of another conflict have found the personal courage to rebuild trust and live beside former enemies in peace. As one journalist writes: ‘Today a Bosniak woman who lost her husband and four children in the war feels comfortable dropping in on her Serb neighbour for a coffee.’
In several articles, comparisons between the conflicts suggest alternative avenues for peace. Quoting an ex-foreign minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one journalist writes: ‘... the solution should be somewhere in the middle, between the two extreme options’. Another concludes that the peaceful coexistence in Bosnia and Herzegovina of ethnic groups which until recently were at war with one another is ‘the best example for the South Caucasus of the search for a common future that rejects the interests of external powers and seeks exclusively common interests’. Lessons from the Bosnian case help the journalists challenge the public to think beyond the rhetoric of mainstream discourse on the conflict: ‘War can change nothing and give nothing. All sides suffer the same tragedy, the loss of people.’
The programme has highlighted strong interest among journalists in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict context in more cross-conflict professional activities. International Alert is now looking to further develop its engagement of media professionals to include more media agencies and younger journalists, and to foster communication between the media and peacebuilding sectors in the region.
This project is funded by: