Turkey-Armenia rapprochement kept alive through media
In the near absence of official contacts between Turkey and Armenia, one key to rapprochement lies in the availability of objective media to report facts and avoid stereotypes in coverage.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 22/06/12
Hopes that Turkey and Armenia would settle their differences soared in 2008 when President Abdullah Gul attended a World Cup football qualifier match between the two rivals, becoming the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia.
President Abdullah Gul and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian wave to spectators at the Hrazdan Stadium during the World Cup 2010 qualifier soccer match between Turkey and Armenia in Yerevan on September 6th 2008. [Reuters]
The so-called "football diplomacy" that followed led to a short-lived attempt to normalise relations the following year with the signing of protocols that envisioned diplomatic relations and the opening of the border.
Although the normalisation process ultimately stalled, it did break media and social taboos of talking about Armenia in Turkey, as civil society groups and journalists keep the momentum through track-two diplomacy.
"Journalists have been instrumental in popularising the Turkish-Armenian issue," Burcu Gultekin Punsmann, an expert at the Ankara-based TEPAV Foundation who works on track-two diplomacy initiatives in the Southern Caucasus, told SES Türkiye.
"In a conflict where the main causes are defined as perceptions, attitudes and prejudices, media representation and reporting inevitably become a natural outlet to address such causes," she said.
Some Turkish and Armenian media and civil society groups -- acting as an alternative channel of information outside of the official state discourse -- have been working to change the media landscape on both sides of the border.
The Istanbul-based Global Political Trends Centre, in collaboration with the Armenia-based Eurasia Partnership Foundation and Yerevan Press Club, have regularly organised media exchange programmes.
Recently a group of 16 Armenian and Turkish journalists took a 3,500km two week bus tour around their respective countries, visiting historical and cultural sights, civil society representatives, politicians and media contacts in order to better understand the other side.
Narod Marasliyan, a project officer at Global Political Trends Centre, explained that because the two communities have little knowledge about each other, there is a huge gap in information reaching the two countries.
"Our major aim is to bring these people closer and let them break their stereotypes towards each other. In this way they will get to know each other and there will be an establishment of communication," Marasliyan told SES Türkiye.
Similarly, the Hrant Dink Foundation, named after the Turkish-Armenian editor who was gunned down in front of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos in Istanbul in 2007, has been organising the Turkey-Armenia Journalists' Dialogue Programme since 2009.
The aim of the programme is to help journalists from the two countries meet their colleagues and establish direct communication with print and broadcast media, academics, NGOs, members of parliament and decision makers in the other country.
Burcu Becermen, project co-ordinator from the Hrant Dink Foundation, said that these programmes opened up new avenues for journalists from Turkey and Armenia to obtain information from objective sources and to form their own opinions.
"Journalists from Turkey visiting Armenia have been pretty impressed by the similarities between the two cultures, and they were mostly welcomed by the local people, in contrast to their initial concerns," Becermen said.