Silvia Stöber is a freelance German journalist who specializes in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. She writes for the media in German language and travels to South Caucasus countries regularly. At the moment she is in Armenia, covering the Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Armenians are hopeful that international organizations and the international media will step in and become some kind of a helpful instrument. What is your opinion on the matter?
I think it is important to send humanitarian aid for those people affected by the war. It’s therefore necessary to report what’s going on here in the region and how those people are affected by the fighting, how civilians are dying and being forced to flee the region.
I hope that our reports from the region can help to bring attention to what’s going on here, so that politicians, especially in Europe, can do more to provide help.
We can see that major media coverage during war tends to use symmetric methods. Armenia claims one thing, Azerbaijan answers in another way, both sides refuted this or that piece of information, etc. Do you think that the method of symmetrical coverage is the best way to show and to understand what is going on in our region?
First of all, my fellow international journalist colleagues and I have to think about who our audience is that we are trying to report to. Those people, our audience in Europe, don’t know much about the region, about the complexity of the conflict, and what exactly is going on here in the war.
So we always try to explain things in a way that covers all sides. It’s not my place to say who is right and who is wrong. But I have to describe what’s going on. And it’s difficult because the information is so contradictory.
For example, what exactly is going on in the war zone? Who is doing what? What you can try to do is to compare the pieces of information and at least come up with something that is as close to reality as possible.
What is the best way to describe the situation? For you, personally.
It’s one thing to report about what’s going on and another thing to create commentary where you could speak in one direction or the other. What I can say, at the moment, is that civilians are suffering heavily, especially in Stepanakert, in all the villages and in Shushi.
There is a big need for humanitarian aid because so many people had to flee and those who’ve remained are living under bad conditions, given that there is no gas supply, not enough water supply and no electricity. But we also have to say that civilians on the other side also suffer. The cities in Azerbaijan like Barda, Ganja, have been shelled. We also have to speak about this. About the price that both sides have to pay. The usage of cluster munitions, especially, should stop immediately because it harms civilians on both sides and there’s no use in it.
What is important is that the people in and from Nagorno Karabakh can come back and can live peacefully. But I really understand that the people have big doubts about living under Azerbaijani rule in Nagorno Karabakh.
When there will be a peace agreement, then the security needs of the people from Nagorno Karabakh have to be in place, and it’s one of the most important points.
What is important for journalists working on the field during the war? Are you guided by a sense of responsibility, a sense of fear?
Of course, especially reporting in the war zone, it is difficult and dangerous. We, as journalists, have a responsibility. For example, when we have to involve the help of fixers and drivers and other people, then it becomes not only a question of the security of the journalists themselves but the people who are helping them to get their work done.
There are also some restrictions on the government’s side. It’s not safe for journalists to go to certain places and they are required to bring a fixer who’s experienced in the region with them. I understand that it is being done for security reasons. There are places which should not be photographed or filmed. This too, I understand, but on the other hand, it must be somehow explained in a way for us as journalists to be able to consider this as plausible.
If there are too many restrictions it will make it difficult to report objectively about what is going on.
You have been in Azerbaijan. What was it like working there?
Last time I was in Baku, in December 2019. At that time, I could move freely. This is different now, according to reports from colleagues. But from my own experience I cannot say yet.
Do you follow social media? There are so many fake accounts and an outpouring of aggressive comments, propaganda.
Yes, I think it’s extreme. There’s propaganda from both sides, in a way, that information is shared which is obviously not correct, also by saying too much or not enough.
The other problem is the hatred coming from many people. Even people that I know from both sides and with whom I have good contacts and have come to a good understanding. People who care about human rights. And a few people out of them are aggressively arguing against the other side and being rude and arrogant.
This of course is very harmful and does not help in any way when it comes to finding a solution to the situation. Now, when this is over, people have to think about how to live together in this region because no one is going to go away. The damage now is so big that both sides will have to think about how long it’ll take and how much energy and financing will be needed to rebuild everything.
And in the end, it will only be possible if people from both sides live peacefully together. So that is something that should be taken into consideration when people speak or argue against the other side.
War had a very emotional background, of course… Terroristic acts have happened in Austria and in France. Can it transfer European attention also to our region?
At the moment, the audience that I report for in Europe is very much concerned with what’s going on in the United States and also with the COVID-19 situation. But they are also concerned with the terror attacks in Vienna and France. That’s why they don’t pay much attention to other conflicts and other problems, in Eastern Europe, especially here in the South Caucasus. We try to bring attention to this region with our reporting.
On the other hand, we have to be careful about tying things together that might not be on the same page.
Of course, there is a problem if mercenaries from Syria are brought via Turkey to Azerbaijan, and these are the same mercenaries going to other conflicts such as Libya, Syria and other regions. Those people are dangerous, of course. But the people committing terrorist acts in Europe are from other regions. One was from Tunisia, another one grew up in Europe.
Terrorism has some sort of ideology behind it, but I would be careful in bringing the two, mercenaries and terrorists, together. We first have to be careful in really finding out what was behind the attacks.
What I can say about research done by many colleagues concerning the mercenaries, there’s information that those people were brought from Syria via Turkey to Azerbaijan. They need money. They are living in Syria under very bad conditions, and so, are ready to go to other places if they are paid for it. Apparently they were given wrong information and many of them have already died there.
Information about what is going on here in the region has arrived in Europe, there have been two debates in the German parliament in Berlin. Turkey is being criticized for its involvement in the war.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan