By Hrach Melkumian
A leading Armenian media association said on Tuesday it is freezing direct contacts with Azerbaijani journalists, citing growing anti-Armenian sentiment in Baku. The Yerevan Press Club (YPC) argued that its members visiting Azerbaijan face overt hostility and intolerance.
Members of the YBC and similar journalist associations in Azerbaijan have exchanged regular visits since 1996 as part of internationally sponsored initiatives to promote dialogue and reconciliation between the two warring nations.
“The idea was to create an appropriate atmosphere for the improvement of relations between our peoples and countries. But the mutual visits in recent months have produced opposite results,” YPC chairman Boris Navasardian told a news conference. He claimed that the two most recent visits to Azerbaijan by groups of Armenian and Karabakh journalists provoked an “anti-Armenian hysteria” there.
Some Azerbaijani media and political groups increasingly criticize the direct contacts with the Armenians, saying that they amount to the legitimization of what they see as an “Armenian aggression” against their country. Three members of a YPC-led delegation of Armenian journalists that visited Baku last month to attend a media seminar were branded “terrorists” by some local newspapers. In a statement issued shortly after the trip, an organization uniting Azerbaijani veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh threatened to take “harsh measures against the Armenians and those inviting them if such invitations and actions continue to take place.”
In September, the visiting head of a Karabakh journalist association, Karen Ohanjanian, was physically assaulted by his Azerbaijani colleagues at the Baku airport after declaring that he is a citizen of an independent country.
Navasardian said the anti-Armenian sentiment is being fanned by unspecified “political circles” that are opposed to a solution to the Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromise. He said despite the freeze on the visits to Azerbaijan the YPC will continue to deepen contacts with its counterparts from Turkey, another country with which Armenia has no diplomatic relations.
The YPC signed a joint declaration with Turkish and Azerbaijani journalist associations in Istanbul last week. The signatories pledged to promote dialogue between their nations and refrain from using “methods of the propaganda war.”