Some of these ex-employees believe that ANS’ death meant the death of any semblance of professional journalism in Azerbaijan.
“I was not completely independent at ANS, but when you compare it with other TV channels, you were comparatively free,” recollected one former reporter who now works for the pro-government APA news agency. Given concerns about government retaliation, he asked not to be named.
“During my work at ANS, I dare say that there was [almost] no censorship or pressure on journalists. Considering the situation of our media, when, for expressing an opinion you can be jailed or have another type of pressure placed on you, ANS was a school for us.”
While many grumbled about the discipline -- salary deductions were calculated down to the minute for being late to work or missing a deadline – they say that the station taught them how to be self-sufficient reporters, able to handle everything from filming to post-production.
“When we talk about ANS, the first thing that comes to my mind is that this channel was the only place where you could get a job only based on your skills and ability, unlike other places where you need connections in order to get a job,” claimed another former reporter, who worked at the station for five years until its closure.
Co-founded in 1991 by two journalists Vahid Mustafayev, Mirshahin Agayev) and one later screenwriter (Mustafayev’s brother, Seyfulla), ANS was a product of its era.
The station was known for its portrayals of Azerbaijan’s 1988-1994 war with Armenia and ethnic Armenian separatists over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory -- a focus that endeared it to many Azerbaijanis grieving for loved ones killed during the conflict.
As the patriotic rap song “Ya Qarabag, Ya Ölüm” (“Either Karabakh or I Die”) played, ANS regularly ran war footage shot by co-founder Vahid Mustafayev’s brother, war-correspondent Chingiz Mustafayev, who was killed during the conflict. A company foundation organized contests for patriotic music, as well as for journalists.
When the TV channel was shut down, ANS Vice-President Mirshahin Agayev, one of the station’s co-founders, apologized to President Aliyev for the Gülen interview, and asked for another chance to continue the station’s work. It never came.