Global Voices launches Caucasus Conflict Voices


Since working on my own project using new and social media to counter local media bias in terms of reporting on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and the still unresolved conflict between the two estranged neighbours over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, it’s been quite a roller coaster of a ride. If in late 2008 it seemed unthinkable to have open communication between Armenians and Azerbaijanis via blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook, it is now nothing unusual at all — or at least for those willing to use these new tools to circumvent restrictions on traditional forms of communication.

Although there are still some potential problems which might arise in the future depending on the political situation within either country, and especially in the area of privacy and personal security concerns, the potential is very definitely there. Of course, as a recent meeting with journalists and new media specialists in Armenia highlighted, many who could personally and professional benefit from taking such moves are still hesitant and even resistant to the idea, but for a new breed of young, progressive and open individuals in both countries, the possibilities have been eagerly embraced. It was this point that I made at a recent conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C.

The event, Blogs and Bullets: Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict, had quite an illustrious assortment of participants, of which I was glad to be among.

[…] on 8 July, a half-day conference, Blogs and Bullets: Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict was held at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Co-sponsored by George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, the first and last of three panels included Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to the U.S. Secretary of State, Ethan Zuckerman, Global Voices co-founder and Senior Researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Marc Lynch, Director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, Colin Rule, Director of Online Dispute Resolution at eBay, and Adam Conner from Facebook.

Also present on the second panel were bloggers and journalists such as Global Voices’ Mialy Andriamananjar and Hamid Tehrani, Global Voices Caucasus Region Editor Onnik Krikorian, Raed Jarrar, Nasseem Tarawnah, and Golnaz Esfandiari. The panels were followed up by a private experts working group also involving Berkman and Global Voices’ Jillian York and representatives from the World Bank and the U.S. Department of State among others. link

During my stay in the U.S. there was also interest in the use of new and social media in the context of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as for specifically empowering alternative and otherwise marginalized voices, from quite a few major international organizations. So, upon my return to Armenia it seemed timely to finally push a pilot project for Global Voices Online, a major citizen media portal for which I’m Caucasus Regional Editor, recently discussed in open sessions at the organization’s summit in Santiago, Chile. Last week, based on over two years work in this area, I’m glad to report that Caucasus Conflict Voices went online.

The special coverage also builds upon Global Voices’ monitoring of citizen media during the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Strategically situated between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the South Caucasus is a key area of importance for the international community. A bridge between East and West, as well as a new and significant conduit for oil and gas, the region is also one of the most volatile.

In the early 1990s separatist movements in Azerbaijan and Georgia saw bitter inter-ethnic fighting turn into full-scale war when the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia declared their independence.

Nearly two decades later, conflicts over the disputed territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh might be frozen, but lasting peace remains elusive. There are also fears that fighting might break out once again, especially as the region remains riven by ethnic rivalry and a bitterly disputed history.

Such concerns were highlighted in August 2008 when Russia and Georgia fought a short war over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. Meanwhile, with skirmishes frequent on the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, some analysts also fear a new war over Nagorno Karabakh as negotiations continue to falter.

Aside from the lack of political will, many analysts argue, societies in all three countries are not being engaged or prepared for peace.

Yet, with media in the region often resorting to propaganda and misinformation (Download Report), few opportunities exist for objective reporting or moderate voices on the conflict to be heard. Because of this, Global Voices has set up this special coverage page. It will also cover the increasing use of new and social media in cross-border peace-building initiatives. link

Hoping for great things from this special coverage, especially as the use of new and social media tools increases in the region, so please take the time to keep an eye on the page set up at: