Home to three unresolved conflicts, the South Caucasus represents a criss-cross of borders, real and perceived. According to Go Group Media, “governments here have indulged in flag-waving rhetoric, whipping-up – with connivance of the politically-engaged or professionally-deficient local media – nationalistic sentiment in their respective societies, and, what with people-to-people contacts across the conflict lines being scarce due to closed borders, self-serving bias and other-denigrating stereotypes have been rife.”
Since being established in 2009, Go Group Media has built a large beneficiary base that spans much of the South Caucasus, including, uniquely, its disputed territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. To date, at least 300 ordinary citizens and journalists from around the region have joined in Go Group Media’s work in a variety of capacities:
- As contributors of its Eyewitness Studio, a cross-Caucasus network of ordinary people who have been producing, with Go Group Media’s training guidance and professional editing input, short documentary films. The upwards of 300 doc stories they have come up with so far are intimate close-ups of their fellow citizens sharing their life experiences, and each of the stories is, effectively, a snapshot of a broader trend or problem shared by whole population segments. The issues the films have broached include minority discrimination, ethnic tensions, stale social customs, harmful gender stereotypes, lack of basic living necessities in remote countryside, etc.
- As students of its Caucasus Authors Course (aka CAC School), a journalism skills enhancement program that has brought together tyro reporters from across the South Caucasus, including its three disputed territories, to expose them to a year-long real-cum-virtual learning agenda combining classes in documentary filmmaking, photo reporting and conflict analysis. The School has produced two batches of students so far (in 2012 and 2013, respectively) and is now going through a third round, attending to a new group of young Caucasian journalists.
- As participants of its journalistic expeditions – arrangements taking groups of Caucasian media practitioners to different areas of the region and beyond to investigate and report important issues that have been mostly overlooked in the local media mainstream. (There have been ten of these, including , including to the villages in Georgia’s Shida Kartli region abutting on the disputed South Ossetia (looking into the daily struggles of people trapped in the conflict zone); to Samtskhe-Javakheti (investigating incidents of confrontation between Georgian Christians and Muslims, which some experts said might be signs of a growing Orthodox Christian fundamentalism in Georgia); and to Nagorno-Karabakh (sounding out the possibility of a new conflict outbreak there), etc.;
The media content resulting from all the three activities have been broadly circulated (through Go Group Media’s website/social networking accounts, community screenings and syndication to a wide range of local media outlets), showing audiences regionwide that there is another reality behind the incomplete or distorted images imposed on them by their governments and media.
Go Group Media’s strong belief is that no formal political agreements can ever bring a lasting peace here unless these dangerous perceptions at the grassroots level change. And changing them is what is has striven to contribute to, through a host of cross-border initiatives that have, in the five years of its existence, directly benefited hundreds of ordinary Georgians, Abkhaz, Ossetians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis by bringing them to get to know one another while learning new skills and working collaboratively. Effectively, it has reared a network of multipliers of what is a conflict transformation sine qua non – tolerance for and constructive understanding of ‘the other’.