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Armenia-Azerbaijan Propaganda War and American Media Bias

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Shusha. Photo: Wikipedia

Authors: Dr. Farid Shafiyev and Dr. Esmira Jafarova

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which underwent tectonic changes after the Second Karabakh War (27.09-10.11.2020) had always had underlying bias perception in Western media, partly caused by religious perception and partly by ideological divide. Strong Armenian diaspora and lobby organizations, present in Western society helped to proliferate certain narrative about the history and the current trend in the conflict. Despite the fact that for almost thirty years internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan was under Armenian occupation, Western media frequently portrayed the conflict as freedom movement of a Christian nation against Muslim Azerbaijan. Such misrepresentation was predetermined by a strong Orientalist bias, which in recent years reinforced by rising Islamophobia and Turkophobia in American and European media.

In this context, Armenians and Armenian sponsored scholars and experts launched a campaign, blaming Azerbaijan for the destruction of Christian heritage during the Second Karabakh War. More worrisome became trend that unlike previous years, Western media outlet refused to grant the Azerbaijani side a right of reply. Below are few examples of one-sidedness of approach to this problem in English language media.

The Conversation run an article titled “Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh fear their medieval churches will be destroyed” written by Christina Maranci, professor and chair of the Armenian Art and Architecture Department at Tufts University. She has written on this subject on several outlets, including “Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs Once More” article in Wall Street Journal. However, the WSJ published an Azerbaijani response, while the Conversation ignored all communications from the Azerbaijani side.

The article misrepresents the true essence of the three decades-long territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the causes and consequences of the Second Karabakh War and its impact on religious shrines.

Christina Maranci repeats historically false cliché about the 1921 decision of the Soviet Union on Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. This often spoken about decision of the Caucasian Bureau in fact ruled out to “keep” Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, thus once again confirming that the region was a part of Azerbaijan in the first place. The manifold references to this decision by the protagonists of Armenian narrative purposefully portray it in a different light.

After the Second Karabakh War ended, dreadful picture opened before the eyes of the international community. Many international journalists, upon the visits to the liberated cities of Agdam, Fizuli and other de-occupied territories of Azerbaijan, eye-witnessed the complete destruction of Azerbaijani cities and infrastructure, including Azerbaijan’s religious heritage, mosques and places of worship.

The city of Agdam was described by many as the “Hiroshima of Caucasus” due to the magnitude of destruction that the city has incurred. Agdam Mosque was desecrated and almost destroyed by Armenia. But Agdam mosque is not the only one to have suffered this sort of ruination. Many mosques in the Azerbaijani territories that were under occupation for three decades were destroyed, turned into pigsty and animal stables. 

On the contrary, Azerbaijan has vowed to restore and protect all religious shrines in the de-occupied territories, including Christian churches. For centuries, Christian heritage existed in the territory of Azerbaijan, which was mostly reigned by Azerbaijani/Turkic rulers. As the conflict erupted in 1988, many Western experts raised concern about the Armenian heritage, especially khachkars tomb-stones. Yet, Armenian Church right in the heart of Baku, damaged during the events of the early 1990s, has been fully restored and nearly 5,000 Armenian manuscripts are kept in the library of the church.

Around 67 mosques in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan were fully destroyed and, despite repeated calls from the government of Azerbaijan, UNESCO refused to send a fact-finding mission. However, once Armenians voiced their concern about Armenian churches in Karabakh, UNESCO demanded immediate access despite the problem with landmines in the newly liberated territories.

Besides mosques, many other monuments and cultural installations were razed to the ground or obliterated. This remains out of the radar of Christina Maranci in the attempt to brush off Azerbaijan’s rich multicultural and multi-confessional heritage.

As a matter of fact, two Armenian shrines – Gazanchesots church in Shusha and Dadivank  monastery in Vank, which were at the spotlight of the Western media remain overall intact. Gazanchesots suffered from accidental rocket strike, and the government of Azerbaijan pledges to restore it as they did the Armenian Church in Baku.

Another propaganda piece slipped into the New York Review of Books, which also refused to publish a response from the authors of this writing. The article “Armenia’s Tragedy in Shushi” by Viken Berberian contains such blatant misrepresentation of the history of Shusha that raises a question how it could have survived the review process, if any.

History is indeed a tricky subject. Warring sides have opposite views of things and their interpretation are mutually contradictory, especially when it comes to ethnic conflicts. But in case of Viken Berberian’s treatment of facts that are otherwise well known to regional experts, the author intentionally misled readers. 

Mainstream historians believe that Shusha was founded by the Azerbaijani-Turkic ruler Panakh ali Khan in 1752 as the capital of the Karabakh khanate. During the city’s whole history until its capture on May 8, 1992, its population was mainly overwhelmingly Turkic/Azerbaijani (Thomas de Waal, Black Garden, NYU Press, 2013, p. 13). In 1823, after the Russian conquest, the Turkic population (called “Tatars” by the Russians) was 72 percent (“Opisanie Karabakhskoi provintsii sostavlennoe v 1823 g. po rasporiazheniiu glavnoupravliaiushego v Gruzii Ermolova deistvitel’nim statskim sovetnikom Mogilevskim i polkovnikom Ermolovim 2-m” Tbilisi, 1866). By 1897 the Russian settlement policy had shrunk this proportion to 41 percent. The author should have treated demographic changes more fairly and not focus only on the period between 1897 to 1920. 

The Russian conquest of the South Caucasus, which included the Karabakh khanate, changed the fate of the people who had been living there more or less peacefully for centuries. Specifically, worse days arrived for Muslim Azerbaijanis and better ones for Christian Armenians. The American scholar Tadeusz Swietochowski noted that Armenians enjoyed a Russian protective shield that enabled them to advance socially and politically at a fast pace and to capture important economic positions in the region (Russian Azerbaijan, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.37). However, at the end of the day, all the Russian imperial policies revolved around the divide and rule principle, and both ethnic groups were but pawns in larger geopolitical game.

Shusha’s history tells the story of the tragedy of the conflict a century ago. Once violence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began in 1905, both communities suffered from attacks and lootings. In 1920, it was mostly Armenians who suffered from violence instigated by territorial dispute between young republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, both of which eventually fell under the Bolshevik yoke. The fall of Shusha in May 1992 was a turning point in the modern history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It led to the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijani population of the entire region of historical Karabakh, which was and is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. De Waal wrote that “After Armenian forces captured the town, hundreds of people swarmed into it, looting and burning.” Most historical buildings were destroyed, along with museums and the residences of many famous Azerbaijani musicians like Uzeyir Hajibeyov (composer of first opera from out of the east, Leyli and Mejnun) and the singer Bulbul.

Armenian warlords tried to erase the Azerbaijani heritage of the city. For example, the Yukhari Govhar Agha mosque was “renovated” by Iranians and rebranded as Iranian heritage. But for most of its occupation by Armenians, Shusha was a “sad city” as the current Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described it recently. While Armenian nationalists deplored their recent loss of Shusha, Pashinyan bitterly exclaimed that Shusha was lost 30 years ago since little was invested there to develop or even maintain the city.

Shusha has enormous symbolic importance for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The same is true for Armenia’s capital Yerevan, which contained almost half Azerbaijani population therein in the beginning of the twentieth century, but eventually fully expelled in 1988-89. The only survived Blue Mosque in Yerevan was also rebranded by Armenian authorities as “Persian” heritage. Viken Berberian focused exclusively on Armenian tragedies without mentioning the well-known evidence of the massacres and expulsions of Azerbaijanis from Armenia. In the whole article, he limits this subject to a single sentence about Khojaly – a town that was entirely exterminated, including women and children among 613 victims.

The author misrepresents further the causes of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was driven by warlord-presidents Robert Kocharyan (1998-2008) and Serge Sargsyan (2008-2018) as well as by the incumbent Nikol Pashinyan’s populist demagogy. According to Gerard Libaridian, ex-adviser to president Levon Ter-Petrosian (1991-1998), the Armenian side abandoned the sober reasoning, while the entire international community spoke against the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, especially the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh.

The whole tragedy of the conflict was ignited by irredentist claims from Armenian nationalists that they launched in February 1988. Murky and highly disputable historical “evidence” brought misery to both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The few reasonable voices among the Armenian diaspora were drowned out and suppressed by jingoist rhetoric. As the Armenian scholar Arman Grigorian (Lehigh University) notes, the Armenian media is responsible for encouraging the nationalist mythology that led to the present situation.

Since the war is over, there is only one future, and that future is reconciliation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The propaganda pieces have no place in such efforts. It is too regrettable that the Conversation and New York Review of Books did not verify the spurious claims contained in these highly biased and controversial pieces, about the cultural heritage, history and the conflict in general, before publishing it.

Dr. Farid Shafiyev is Chairman of the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at ADA University, Azerbaijan.

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Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation

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Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.

2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.

The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.

In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.

Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.

As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.

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Eastern Europe

2021: the year of political bankruptcy of Lithuanian government

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Ramūnas Karbauskis, Lithuanian businessman and politician, Chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union severely criticized  Lithuanian authorities’ actions.

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lithuanian: LVŽS) is a green-conservative and agrarian political party in Lithuania. Following the 2020 parliamentary election, the LVŽS has been in opposition to the Šimonytė Cabinet.

Ramūnas Karbauskis did not even try to find softer words to describe on Facebook the results of the past year. He noted that “2021 Lithuanians will remember as the year of bankruptcy of government, the reluctance and inability to speak, which caused and deepened health and illegal migration crises.” According to him, 2021 is marked as “a scaling and segregation of society, demolition of diplomatic roads, cutting not only with one of the biggest economies in the world – China, but even with allies and neighbors.”

He paid attention to the fact, that current negative economic tendencies were the direct results of shortsighted government actions.

To his mind, “2021 will also be remembered as the year of emptying the state budget, gold government purchases, including golden houses for illegal migrants. The government actively pushed the decriminalization of drugs, the measures to promote the trade of alcohol. He also said, that the end of the year was crowned by the Belarusian fertilizer transit scandal, but Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Transport Minister Marius Skuodis responsible for it remained in their posts.

Thus, he is absolutely sure, that overall, this year has only strengthened the impression that “the government is not working for the Nation, not for its benefit.”

Ex-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkas has also criticized the permission to open a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius, saying that the conflict with China has led to huge loses. In his words, “that recognition should have, first, been done by the world, the major countries that have influence and their decision should provide results, not a small Lithuania.”

Today, when these loses have become more and more destructive for the Lithuanian economy, Ausrine Armonaite, the Economy and Innovation Minister says that “the European Union should be more united in its response to China’s pressure on Lithuania.” It turned out, that the mistake was made by Lithuania, but the EU for some reason should solve this problem. Once again Lithuanian authorities shift responsibility to others.

It seems as if Lithuanian officials have chosen the way of confrontation not only with China, but with neighbouring Russia and Belarus. Thus, they continue to increase defence budget of the country instead of allocating additional funds to economically fragile spheres. 2021 defence budget initially amounted to 1.028 billion euros. However, the government allocated additional 20.7 million euros during a budgetary review. 2022 defence budget will be increased to 1.298 billion euros.

The government has not learned how to place political accents correctly. Thus, the lack of coordination and common understanding in the ruling circles lead to political mistakes and the loss of the country’s image in the international arena. Lithuania’s behaviour has led to the shaping of ridiculous image as a country that takes on much more powers than it can afford.

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