“Journalist’s Arrest Could Lead to Serious Consequences”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The mirror image of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is in the media, where Azerbaijan has begun to apply punitive mechanisms.

Journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov, Turkey correspondent for the independent Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo, was arrested on April 19 and charged with high treason and espionage for Armenia. According to the indictment, Mirkadyrov during three visits to Armenia handed the Armenian side information about the potential and location of Azerbaijan’s armed forces.

Mentioned as the Azerbaijani journalist’s “rezident” is Director of Region Research Center in Armenia Laura Baghdasaryan, who considers the accusation ridiculous. On her Facebook page, she wrote [AM]: “Such accusations are degrading for Azerbaijan’s armed forces and special services because they have null value if ordinary, but talented and proper journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov can have such information.”

Since 2001, the Region Research Center has been involved in analyzing regional conflicts and the political situation. Baghdasaryan considers it normal that during those years, Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists met several times and implemented programs. Baghdasaryan and Mirkadyrov last met one month ago, in Yerevan, at a conference organized by Noravank Foundation. 

Laura, what sort of consequences might this precedent have? At first glance, the charge against the journalist even seems laughable. 

Actually, the consequences can be quite serious and definitely not laughable. Of course, in previous years, as well, various people were accused of having “sold out,”  but as a rule, such accusations weren’t taken seriously (emotional remarks came and went), whereas now it’s more serious because Rauf Mirkadyrov is accused of a serious charge: treachery of Azerbaijan’s state security. And this assumes a sentence of 10 years to life imprisonment. 

It’s very distressful that my dear colleague’s fate is placed under question. Rauf Mirkadyrov is a famous journalist, whose words are influential in not only Azerbaijani, but also international media. And now because of this ridiculous accusation his life is ruined. 

I’m also afraid that after this incident, many Armenian-Azerbaijani programs will be prevented. And Azerbaijani journalists will no longer dare to collaborate with Armenian colleagues. Two years ago, we created a joint website, and now it’s unclear whether it will continue to operate or not. 

Azerbaijan calls you a “resident spy” [a person] who extorted state secrets from an Azerbaijani journalist. 

They designate me and one other, still unnamed individual as a “resident”. Azerbaijan’s special services have said they will reveal this person later. 

Basically, it turns out that I “recruited” Rauf Mirkadyrov and paid for the information (it’s interesting: with what money?). This is such an unfounded and absurd statement that even commenting on it is pointless. 

And then a question arises: why was this charge brought forth now? Mirkadyrov is being accused of espionage conducted in 2008–2009, but he was arrested only 5 years later. 

How is the Armenian side going to comment on this situation? And should it even do so or not?

It’s clear that in countries in a conflict situation (and Armenia and Azerbaijan are in such a situation), joint work and the attitude toward such work cannot be absolute. It’s normal that the special services of these countries have to work against each other. 

It’s just that in Armenia the attitude is calmer. For example, those who take their vacation in Turkey or who have contact with members of the conflicting side are not reproached. It’s not like that in Azerbaijan. 

I don’t think that Armenia will respond to this false accusation. 

In your opinion, why is the journalist, in particular, punished?

Journalists are frequently in contact; they exchange information. 

If any contact with the enemy country is considered unwelcome, then anyone who violates that order can be accused when necessary. 

As they say, if there’s a person, an article with which to charge him can always be found.

Also not ruled out is that the motives for arrest are completely different, since Rauf worked for three years in Turkey and had a clear position on Syria. But these are only my assumptions. 

I think, this arrest is evidence of not only the media industry, but also a more global diagnosis. Informational “throws” are regularly conducted to see what will happen. 

I remember years ago, when I worked at the Hayastani Hanrapetutyun (“Republic of Armenia”) newspaper, I could easily call Azerbaijani journalists and analysts, speak with them, conduct interviews, and publish. They did the same. 

But now Azerbaijan’s formula has changed, and working with Armenians doesn’t fit into that formula. Their and our perceptions of patriotism are different. 

Russia’s media likewise is strictly censored — and from a patriotic perspective. Should we be prepared for such a turn?

Generally, freedom of speech is the criteria with which a country’s situation is diagnosed. And when they begin to tighten the reins of freedom of speech and restrict it with different draft laws and accusations, it’s not evidence of something good. But that’s a topic for another conversation. 

Laura Baghdasaryan spoke with Nune Hakhverdyan.

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