Journalist and HaberTurk TV presenter Vildan Ay was in Yerevan as a participant in the Hrant Dink Foundation's exchange program for Armenian and Turkish journalists. She talks to CivilNet about her impressions of Armenia and how the Turkish media report on Armenia.
Harout Ekmanian: You were in Armenia two years ago with another group of Turkish journalists. What has changed since your first visit?
Vildan Ay: During these two and a half years, a lot has changed, as I observed from the architecture, I guess, large-scale construction is going on in the streets of Yerevan. But beyond that, bilateral relations between the two countries are much worse than before, which is really sad. And we are sharing a common problem too. What's going on in Syria is affecting both countries in different ways. First of all, we have people, we have brothers, sisters, living there and they have to leave their countries. Armenia is also hosting people from Syria, we are also hosting people from Syria. And so the issue of Syria has now become much more prominent in these two and a half years.
Harout Ekmanian: What about the other side. What has changed in Turkey regarding Armenia since two years ago? You have covered a lot of news about Armenia in that period, and now you're going back and you will continue doing so. What are your impressions? Maybe you can start by telling us the image of Armenia in Turkish media, not Armenians, but Armenia itself.
Vildan Ay: The thing is, Turkey is about to forget the "protocols" and normalization process between the two countries. Which is so sad. Three years ago, the "protocols" process was still not forgotten and there are still more people leading that process or supporting that process. But during these three years lots of things happened in Turkey's foreign policy which made us, made the public, even the media, forget the Armenian-Turkish normalization process. And when we talk about the image of Armenia, we see that in Turkish media, you barely see, or read, or watch any news related to Armenia because we have lots of Armenians living in Turkey, under Turkish citizenship. But with regard to Armenia, there must be something really big to be covered by the Turkish media. Because, first of all, the Turkish media covers foreign politics less than local politics. Because local politics is huge, the debate is so big. It's such a polarized country, the government and the opposition are always arguing with each other, which makes local news much more important in the eyes of journalists. And so it leaves little space for international news. That is why there is no space even for a short news item about Armenia. Many people have already forgotten about the normalization process and why we need this. They forget about the reason, they forget about the motivation for the process. However, on every April 24 all the Turkish people, the Turkish media, and the Turkish politicians remember that we have a frozen problem in the fridge. But it's remembered only at that period, not in January or September. Because the issue of relations between Turkey and Armenia is so much related, in my opinion, in a very wrong way, to the genocide issue. So, the worst thing about covering news about Armenia in the Turkish media is the lack of information and the lack of courage. Unless if something's happening in Karabakh, or if something really big is happening at the border…
Harout Ekmanian: Next year, as you know, is the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. There are huge expectations, there are huge plans by both countries. I think even more maybe in Turkey. As you know, the prime minister also made some announcements that they will organize a big celebration of the centenary of the battle of Gallipoli. Do you think that these things, even if not willingly or indirectly, will nonetheless perhaps help to generate more news about Armenia in Turkey?
Vildan Ay: It may at least have the effect of bringing the process out of its frozen state. Now, the focus in Turkey is on the Presidential elections, but it's going to be over one day and after that, especially in the new year, people will start to think about what are we going to see on April 24, especially the statement coming from the White House. Because each year, everyone is waiting for that statement and waiting for the answer whether Obama would use the word Genocide or if he is going to say Mets Yeghern again. This is a big issue in Turkey. And, yes, the Turkish State or Turkish government has announced that they are going to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, but that will be in March. So, I guess from both sides they don't have a master plan yet. They're not sure yet about what to do. But the Prime Minister's statement last April was a surprise for all of us, as a journalist and as a citizen of Turkey, it was a surprise for me. So maybe we will see new surprises from the Turkish government.
Harout Ekmanian: Several groups of Turkish journalists have come to Yerevan. Is this helping in your opinion? Is this helping Turkish journalists to have more access and first hand information? From your personal experience, what can you tell us?
Vildan Ay: Sometimes I'm optimistic, sometimes I'm not. So, let's start with the optimistic approach. Yes, that's helping a lot because we have to build bridges between us because there is a closed border, there are politicians who are not speaking to each other. So we have to overcome the issues between us by building these bridges. And inviting journalists from each country to the other is helping, because the media echoes the voice of the public; we have the power to reach hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people at the same time by our newsletters, by broadcasting, by covering stories. So, by reaching one single journalist, you may reach millions of people. Yes, this is the optimistic approach to this dialogue process. And by just considering us as individuals, as a Turkish girl who has never been to Armenia before, it will be my first time here, it will be my first time to meet someone from Armenia, and it will be the first time that I have a chance to talk about the issues between two countries. So, yes, this is very helpful. But sometimes we get pessimistic every time we make an effort, we try to contribute to the process, but politicians do nothing. Sometimes they are even downplaying the efforts that we make. They do things that are very harmful for the process. Then we ask ourselves why we are trying if these politicians won't get together… Also, the few people who are already getting together are the people who believe in peacemaking, dialogue, who believe in creating relations between each country. But what about the majority? When I think about Turkey, I see that there are masses of people who don't dare even to think about this issue. All what matters for them is their daily life, and they don't care about politics, dialogue, peacemaking. Despite all this, I still define myself as desperately optimistic. Even the desperate times, when you don't have anything to rely on, I guess we should keep making efforts in this process.