An enclave populated by Armenians that is located in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is now at peace after last autumn’s six weeks of bloody fighting, and is secured by Russian peacekeepers, but control over journalistic activity has been stepped up.
Since last February, at least ten foreign journalists have been denied entry by the Russian peacekeeping troops controlling access to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia via the so-called Lachin corridor.
They include the French photographer Christophe Petit-Tesson, who said: “I spent several days there in January but the rules have changed since then.” Vincent Prado, a reporter for the Enquête Exclusive current affairs programme on the French TV channel M6, has had his requests to visit the territory refused several times by the Russians without any explanation.
Similar unexplained refusals have been received by Neil Hauer, a Canadian freelancer for the Guardian and CNN, and Mark Stratton, a British journalist who described his frustration in an interview for the BBC. The photographer Kiran Ridley received permission to visit the enclave but was turned back at the Russian checkpoint on 4 April.
With some difficulty, reporters Jonathan Walsh and Mohamed Farhat from the French TV news channel France 24 managed to get in at the start of March thanks to a privileged contact on the spot, but they are among the very few journalists to have succeeded.
“A growing number of foreign journalists are being systematically refused entry by Russian soldiers,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “There are no objective grounds for this obstruction. The reporters do not pose a threat to the territory’s safety, which is guaranteed by peacekeeping troops.”
Cavelier added: “Without international media, Nagorno-Karabakh is liable to become a news and information ‘black hole.’ We call on the Russian authorities to allow journalists access, regardless of their nationality. And we call on the UN and Council of Europe to ensure respect for the right to the freedom to inform, which is all the more essential in a conflict or post-conflict situation.”
The cease-fire agreement that the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia signed under Russia’s aegis on 9 November 2020 has no specific provision for the entry of journalists. Press accreditation is issued by the consulate of Nagorno-Karabakh’s unrecognised Republic of Artsakh or by the Armenian foreign ministry but it is the Russia peacekeepers who grant or refuse entry to foreign citizens, who are notified of the decision on the eve of their planned visit. Armenians and Russians just need to show their passports in order to enter.
Access to Nagorno-Karabakh is also restricted via Azerbaijan, which is ruled by the authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev. TV crews from France 24 and the European channel Arte made highly controlled visits from Azerbaijan and were not able to report freely.
At least seven journalists were injured during the Nagorno-Karabakh war from 27 September to 9 November. Three journalists who were injured when missiles were fired on the town of Martuni on 1 October – Armenia TV’s Avetis Harutyunyan and Aram Grigoryan and the Armenian news agency 24news.am’s Sevak Vardumyan – and the brother of a fixer who was killed the same day filed a case against Azerbaijan at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 26 March.
Armenia is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Russia is ranked 149th and Azerbaijan is ranked 168th.