TBY talks to Fazil F. Abbasov, General Director of AzerNews, on the evolution of the paper, the media landscape, and press freedom.
TBY What sort of influences led to you joining the media sector?
FAZIL F. ABBASOV I was born in Karabakh and attended Baku State University’s Oriental Studies Faculty between 1963 and 1968. I also studied at the University of Algeria for one academic year, and became an interpreter in Syria. I returned to Baku in 1975 and worked at a satirical publication for 15 years. In 1991 we established AssA-Irada, the first independent news agency in Azerbaijan. Six years later, we set up the first English language newspaper, AzerNews, and I have been running these two publications ever since. I hold a PhD in Syrian literature and have written two monographs on the subject. I have also done a lot of creative writing and authored many publicist works, pamphlets, and short stories. Furthermore, I have written a two-volume historical novel on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and am working on a third volume of this series.
How has AzerNews evolved, and what is the current circulation of the newspaper?
AzerNews is the first independent English language newspaper in Azerbaijan. It has been 15 years since the newspaper came out for the first time, and we feel proud of what we have accomplished. The most important thing for us is to maintain our independence. We have no income except for sales and advertising. We are the only newspaper in the country that is placed into a PDF format all over the world through www.newspaperdirect.com, the world’s leading media website. Our main source of news is our journalists and the AssA-Irada news agency, whose news is featured in the databases of the world’s leading economic publication, The Financial Times, as well as those of Russia, Germany, and other countries. We are planning to increase the number of pages as well as that of sponsors in 2012. The employees of all embassies, international organizations, and foreign companies operating in Baku are among our readers. AzerNews is also available on the flights of Azerbaijan’s state airline AZAL. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s increasing role in the region encourages us to focus on regional events more. We publish 6,000 copies every week, and the presence of an increasing number of expatriates visiting Azerbaijan and local people learning English makes us think of increasing our circulation.
How has AzerNews contributed to the development and growth of Azerbaijan over the last decade?
The key goal of AzerNews is to disseminate news about Azerbaijan and the region to the world. Our ethos is our independence and objectivity. We believe we are the best source for foreigners coming to Azerbaijan who want to learn more about the country, as we closely follow all developments. This confidence is built on the numerous appeals, calls, and advertisements from our readers. AzerNews is the best source for those looking to get acquainted with the economy, business environment, culture, and society of Azerbaijan. As a media organization, we closely take part in the recognition of Azerbaijan abroad. For example, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and misleading policy on the Armenian side of this issue forms negative opinions about our country in people’s minds, and I am proud that AzerNews tries to get across the truth behind these stories.
What are some of the key topics that you see affecting Azerbaijan in the coming years?
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is first on the agenda, as very little has been done on this issue in recent years. It is quite important for Azerbaijan to settle the conflict under international law and get its legitimate territories back. This is the only thing all Azerbaijanis agree on, and I strongly believe that the settlement of the issue will solve other problems for the country. This is a very important time for Azerbaijan. European integration and policies in this direction, as well as relations with neighboring countries—Turkey in particular—are to be top issues on the media agenda.
How does freedom of the press and expression in Azerbaijan compare with other countries in the region?
The first newspaper in Azerbaijan was published in 1875. At present, local media organizations are of three various types: official, opposition, and independent. We are in the third group. Former President Heydar Aliyev abolished censorship in 1998 for the first time in the history of our media. Our publications never caused any problem for us; we are ready to listen to everyone. A lot has been done for press freedom after Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, and today’s media has become commercial. The number of newspapers in the country is rather high, which negatively affects the efficiency of their publications. AzerNews has always been independent, and has been critical of many issues. Nevertheless, the media is consistently growing in our country. However, I would rather note that our freedom of the press is ensured and we have never faced any problem in this sphere. We rely on our professionalism in this issue.
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