Observations of an American journalist in Azerbaijan, Russia and USA.
Monday, July 14, 2008
The challenge of new thinking
July 3 Interesting conversation of the day: At the end of the day – we were discussing article subjects. One student is writing about a rash of suicides in the area. Another guy is writing about the growing number of drug addicts – pegged to the record opium harvest in Afghanistan. But Kamel – the fellow who writes his articles by hand, had no real subject. I asked him about his ideas. He suggested the fact that Armenia still holds so much of Azerbaijan. The Armenians were holding Azerbaijani women captive. (This thing about the women is a new allegation for me – but it sounds very much like propaganda material.) I asked him – so what is new about this? The war occurred how many years ago. What is the new angle? He didn’t really have an answer- but then he suggested something about how Armenia was now claiming that Azerbaijani musical instruments were Armenian. I could see we were going downhill. I started improvising. Sometimes, I said, when I was looking for a story, I read other newspapers – and thought about my audience – and how I could use an angle suited especially for my readers. (Kamel edits a newspaper oriented to veterans issues.) For example, there was recent coverage of the country’s military budget. The president has sought (and of course received) a very large increase in the military budget. Why not use that as a peg to look at veteran benefits. How much have they increased? What is the situation for the nation’s veterans? It could be easy to find out the figures of the military budget. Easy to find the official levels for veteran benefits. Kemal already knows plenty of veterans to interview. Kemal seemed momentarily satisfied with this idea- but then his face fell. His paper doesn’t have any protection. It took me a moment – but just a moment – to understand what he meant. It’s like in Russia – every business needs a “krisha,” a roof. Someone powerful who will protect the enterprise. So – even such a basic article might be treading too close to the edge – especially for a newspaper without protection. What I thought was especially interesting after I thought about it was how Kemal just went straight for the well-carved groove – let’s write another article about Armenia- and how Armenia took our land and hurt our pride and the injustice of it all and what terrible people they are. And it’s just mind-numbing. It’s not even patriotism. It’s like some sort of brainwashing. People who think about things realize this. I was talking with a lawyer tonight – and mentioned the incident – and he observed that this issue is kept front & center – so people don’t think about anything else. Which is pretty much how I look at it. But – he made this observation to me in very hushed tones. (The photo above is of me teaching.)