The plot is thickening in the case of a European Union-based documentary crew that was barred from filming in Armenia. Authorities in Yerevan believe the documentary’s executive producer is on “friendly terms with Azerbaijani officials,” and wants to create a program on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from a pro-Baku viewpoint. The producer, Andrius Brokas, is vehemently denying the allegation.
After being refused entry, the four-person documentary crew spent about a day at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport on March 10-11 before returning home. The incident does not appear likely to stop there, however. Brokas, a Lithuanian national, said he has been in contact with Lithuanian diplomats in Vilnius. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, who is currently the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s chairman in office, is scheduled to be visiting Yerevan on March 17-18. The Armenian decision to bar the documentary crew, comprising a Lithuanian, a Finn, and two Estonian nationals, could be added to the agenda of discussion topics while Ažubalis is in Yerevan.
“We informed our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so probably the minister knows about it,” Brokas said in a telephone interview March 14.
After initially offering no explanation for the decision to deny entry to the crew, Armenian diplomats hinted that the documentary filmmakers were biased against Armenia. “Irrespective of the reasons of not granting visas to the group, it is obvious that their aim was to damage Armenia’s reputation,” a top official in the Foreign Ministry of Armenia told EurasiaNet.org.
In a statement distributed March 11, a member of the documentary crew, Tiina Madisson, said the filmmakers had intended to interview former Armenian president and current leader of an opposition coalition, Levon Ter-Petrosian. An aide to Ter-Petrosian, Arman Musinian, confirmed that he had been in contact with the crew, but added that “no specific agreement” had been reached.
An Armenian Foreign Ministry source told EurasiaNet.org that the government had obtained information that Brokas is “on friendly terms” with Baku. Various Armenian media outlets, both Armenia-based and serving Diaspora communities around the world, carried reports alleging that Brokas was acting on behalf of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture.
Brokas insisted he has no current connection to Azerbaijani officials. He said that last year he had helped produce a concert, titled Notre Dame de Paris, which was staged June 17-18 in Baku. The concert, he added, was part of an official cultural exchange involving Lithuanian and Azerbaijani governmental agencies. In a statement issued March 12, he said he had been involved in numerous ventures similar to the Baku production, including events staged in Poland, Latvia, Finland and India.
Brokas declined to specify where the financing for the Karabakh documentary project was coming from other than to say EU-based entities were involved. He cited contractual obligations in declining to elaborate on financial details. He added that a British production company, which he would not name, was helping provide archival footage.
In his March 12 statement, Brokas described the Armenian government action as a “clear provocation.” During the March 14 telephone interview, he expressed a sense of befuddlement over the allegation of a pro-Baku bias. He noted that a film in which he had served as director of photography, titled Christina & Christ, was to be screened at the Golden Apricot film festival, which will run in Yerevan from July 10-17.
Commenting on the public relations aspect of the incident, Vladimir Karapetian, a former Foreign Ministry press secretary, and currently the foreign relations coordinator of the opposition Armenian National Congress, said the decision to bar the crew put Yerevan on the defensive. “They [Armenian officials] could have let them [the filmmakers] in, see what they were going to say and then express their own opinion, instead of making so much fuss,” Karapetian said.
Marianna Grigoryan contributed reporting from Yerevan.