Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) : Tourism good-news story flawed by poor journalism

Nagorno-Karabakh, karabakh, artsakh, stepanakert, armenia, azerbaijan, tourism, tourist
In the UK during the Second World War there was a nation-wide poster campaign called “Careless Words Costs Lives”. This was aimed at everyone in the country requesting them to be vigilant about what they said, and to whom, and to think about who might be listening. This was not just concerned about people revealing state secrets but about people talking casually about the smallest piece of information which could be of value to the enemy. In the 21st Century the principle of the situation remains the same, but the methods and issues are completely different in an age when “words” can be communicated to millions in seconds.

Whilst the military ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been in place for nearly 20 years, the “war of words” continues unabated and the requirement to be conscious of how one is contributing to that remains on high alert. There is always a danger that one can be reinforcing Azerbaijani propaganda, or the confused world view of this country in a way that is, at best, unhelpful.

The Media use words in such a way to heavily influence the public’s perception of an individual or a situation. A prevalent example at the moment is the term “rebel” – this is interpreted in the UK, as being someone who has a just cause to be an adversary to the current government, someone to be supported, a person who represents the oppressed people. The term “terrorist” is the complete opposite, a term of hate, abuse, revulsion, and someone who has no positive intent in their actions. One person’s “rebel” is another person’s “terrorist” – the term you chose indicates one’s political persuasion, or intention. There are many examples of how important words are causally used and how much they have biased a group perception.
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I read with mixed feelings the article by Mariam Hartutyunyan called “Disputed Karabakh becomes unlikely tourist draw” where the underlying message, I believe, was to present a positive statement about tourism in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, disappointingly, the text was littered with anti-Armenian clichés which could easily have been written by a poorly informed US/European journalist. Also for an article which is trying to promote the notion that tourism is a realistic and safe prospect it is strange that the author has gone to the extent of using unnecessarily scaremongering and sensationalist language which would deter possible tourists rather than entice them.

An opening sentence which starts with “Sniper fire, minefields, ghost towns: perched perilously on the verge of conflict…..” is quite ridiculous. The only situation where anyone would experience “sniper fire” would be if you chose to go the “Line of Contact”, and then it is very rare. Similarly, a minefield would only be a concern if you chose to go to distant places that you were advised to keep away from. The only “ghost-town” that exists in Karabakh which is alluded to later in the text is Aghdam. There is no evidence at all, or expectation, that armed conflict is going to break out at a moment’s notice.

If you want to try and deter tourists then this is a great way to start an article. I could easily describe London, as a very depressing, and dangerous place to visit, with crimes committed everyday which are never seen in Karabakh. Places where you would never walk after dark, where people get blown up on the underground, with terrorists roaming the streets ready to detonate explosives without any notice. One doesn’t, because the real risk is so low that it is not helpful to portray it in that way.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an established independent state, ( not an “Armenian controlled Azerbaijani region”) with a democratically elected government, determined by the people who live in the country. The fact that it is “unrecognised “ is due to the prevailing political situation in the region and does not suggest that it is not a legitimate state. Taiwan is unrecognized by many nations in the UN but it is a very well-established, respected country, with a thriving economy. For the author to use terms like “separatist”, and “breakaway territory” only serves to represent Karabakh as a “tinpot” regime, run by people on the edge of political or religious legitimacy, worthy of little international respect. That’s how it will be perceived in the UK, at least. Who would want to visit a place described like this?

The author clearly does not understand the background to the conflict. To suggest that Karabakh was “seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian backed separatists” shows a level of ignorance of the democratic process that was initiated in February 1988, and the subsequent chronology of events driven by Azerbaijan that led to full-scale war.

Similarly the comment “…..the Azerbaijani community fled in the wake of war” without referring to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who fled Azerbaijan before the war even started, shows a curious bias in the reporting. It is a sad fact that many people, on both sides, were killed and displaced during that period. The figure quoted in the article of 600,000 omits to point out that 160,000 Azerbaijanis fled from Armenia to Azerbaijan and not from Nagorno-Karabakh. A balanced text would have highlighted that 360,000 Armenians had to flee from Azerbaijan.

The risks are unnecessarily over-stated. When in Stepanakert, one is no more “in a conflict zone” than when walking in the streets of London . When driving to Nagorno-Karabakh one does not have to “risk the journey” – there is zero risk from armed conflict of any description in getting to the country, or staying there – so why even suggest it!

Anyone who cares to understand the political “sabre-rattling” knows that the issue of opening the airport in Stepanakert was not accompanied by “threats of a return to war”. The threats were to shoot the plane down – this was part of the political “game-playing” – there has never been a suggestion of a return to war because of this.

The so-called “bombed-out ghost town” of Aghdam is another sensationalist description which appeals to those people who revel in the ridiculous idea that Aghdam is the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus”. (For more please see “Aghdam: This is no Hiroshima”)

Apart from driving the wedge between the reality of life in Nagorno-Karabakh, and a one-dimensional, uninformed media representation, this article seems to be trying to promote the country as a place to visit by people who want to exploit their personal lust for sensationalism and need for self-importance at the expense of the people who live there. Tourism should be about the enjoyment and understanding of the people, culture, landscape, food, and lifestyle – it is about Respect not Exploitation.

I feel that the author has strayed too far away from the good-news story that should be told, into a form of Azerbaijani political propaganda. I remain bemused as to why this was the case from an Armenian journalist.

Comment written in Panorama.am about this article, also a brief 1 minute section on ARM TV news on 5 Aug 2013 (11:59 in)

If you want any help with your tourism in Nagorno-Karabakh then contact Susanna Petrosyan on this link

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© Russell Pollard – http://www.Artsakh.Org.UK, 2011-2013.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Brief excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Russell Pollard and http://www.Artsakh.Org.UK with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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