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) has always had an underlying biased perception in Western media, partly caused by the perception religious and partly by an ideological division. The strong Armenian diaspora and lobbying organizations present in Western society have helped to proliferate certain narratives on the history and current trend of the conflict. Despite the fact that for almost thirty years the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan was under Armenian occupation, Western media have frequently described the conflict as a freedom movement of a Christian nation against Muslim Azerbaijan. Such a misrepresentation was predetermined by a strong Orientalist bias, which in recent years has been reinforced by the rise of Islamophobia and Turkophobia in the 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. The trend has become more worrying than unlike in previous years, the Western media refused to grant the Azerbaijani side a right of reply. Below are some examples of a one-sided approach to this problem in the English language media.
The conversation publish an article titled “Displaced Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh fear their medieval churches will be destroyedWritten by Christina Maranci, professor and chair of the Department of Armenian Art and Architecture at Tufts University. She wrote about it on several outlets, including “Cultural heritage in the sights once againArticle in the Wall Street Journal. However, the WSJ issued an Azerbaijani response, while Conversation ignored all communications from the Azerbaijani side.
The article misrepresents the true essence of the three-decade 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 a historically false clichÃ© about the 1921 decision of the Soviet Union on the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan. This oft-mentioned decision of the Caucasus Office was in fact excluded from “keep” Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, thus confirming once again that the region is part of Azerbaijan in the first place. The multiple references to this decision by the protagonists of the Armenian narrative deliberately present it in a different light.
After the end of the Second Karabakh War, a terrible picture opened up before the eyes of the international community. Many international journalists, during visits to the liberated cities of Agdam, Fizuli and other unoccupied Azerbaijani territories, witnessed the complete destruction of Azerbaijani cities and infrastructure, including Azerbaijan’s religious heritage, mosques and places of worship.
The city of Agdam has been described by many as the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus” due to the extent of the destruction suffered by the city. The Agdam Mosque was desecrated and almost destroyed by Armenia. But Agdam’s mosque is not the only one to have suffered this kind of ruin. Many mosques in Azerbaijani territories which had been under occupation for three decades have been destroyed, turned into pigsties and stables.
On the contrary, Azerbaijan pledged to restore and protect all religious shrines in the unoccupied territories, including Christian churches. For centuries, Christian heritage has existed in the territory of Azerbaijan, which was mainly ruled by Azerbaijani / Turkish rulers. When the conflict erupted in 1988, many Western experts worried about the Armenian heritage, especially the gravestones of the khachkars. Yet the Armenian Church 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 church library.
About 67 mosques in the occupied Azerbaijani territories were completely destroyed and, despite repeated appeals from the Azerbaijani government, UNESCO refused to send a fact-finding mission. However, once Armenians expressed concern about Armenian churches in Karabakh, UNESCO required immediate access despite the landmine problem in the newly liberated territories.
Besides mosques, many other monuments and cultural facilities have been razed or destroyed. It stays off the radar of Christina Maranci in her attempt to sweep away Azerbaijan’s rich multicultural and multi-faith heritage.
In fact, two Armenian shrines – Gazanchesots Church in Shusha and Dadivank Monastery in Vank, which were in the spotlight of Western media remain largely intact. The Gazanchesots suffered from an accidental rocket fire, and the Azerbaijani government is committed to restoring it as it did for the Armenian Church in Baku.
Another propaganda article slipped into the New York Book Review, who also declined to publish a response from the authors of this writing. The article “The tragedy of Armenia in ShushiBy Viken Berberian contains such a blatant misrepresentation of Shusha’s story that begs the question of how she could have survived the review process, if at all.
History is indeed a delicate subject. The belligerents have opposing views on things and their interpretations are mutually contradictory, especially when it comes to ethnic conflicts. But in the case of Viken Berberian’s treatment of facts which are otherwise well known to regional experts, the author has intentionally misled readers.
Traditional historians believe that Shusha was founded by Azerbaijani-Turkish ruler Panakh ali Khan in 1752 as the capital of the Karabakh Khanate. Throughout the city’s history until its capture on May 8, 1992, its population was predominantly Turkish / Azerbaijani (Thomas de Waal, Black garden, NYU Press, 2013, p. 13). In 1823, after the Russian conquest, the Turkish population (called âTatarsâ by the Russians) was 72% (âOpisanie Karabakhskoi provintsii sostavlennoe v 1823 g. Po rasporiazheniiu glavnoupravliaiushego v Gruzii Ermolova deistvitel’nim statskim 2-sovbilnikissi mâ , 1866). By 1897, the Russian colonization policy had reduced this proportion to 41 percent. The author should have treated demographic changes more fairly and not just focused on the period between 1897 and 1920.
The Russian conquest of the South Caucasus, which included the khanate of Karabakh, changed the fate of the peoples who had lived there more or less peacefully for centuries. Specifically, worse days have come for Muslim Azerbaijanis and better days for Christian Armenians. American scholar Tadeusz Swietochowski noted that Armenians enjoyed a Russian protective shield that enabled them to progress socially and politically at a rapid pace and to seize important economic positions in the region (Russian Azerbaijan, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.37). Ultimately, however, all of Russia’s imperial policies revolved around the divide-and-rule principle, and the two ethnic groups were just pawns in a larger geopolitical game.
Shusha’s Story tells the story of the tragedy of conflict a century ago. When violence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began in 1905, both communities suffered attacks and looting. In 1920, it was above all the Armenians who suffered from the violence caused by the territorial conflicts between the young republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, both of which fell under the Bolshevik yoke. The fall of Shusha in May 1992 marked a turning point in the modern history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This led to the ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani population from the entire historical region of Karabakh, which was and is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. From Waal wrote that “after the Armenian forces captured the city, hundreds of people invaded it, looting and burning.” Most of the historic buildings were destroyed, as well as the museums and residences of many famous Azerbaijani musicians like Uzeyir Hajibeyov (composer of the first eastern opera, Leyli and Mejnoun) and singer Bulbul.
The Armenian warlords tried to erase the Azerbaijani heritage from the city. For example, the Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque was ârenovatedâ by the Iranians and renamed Iranian Heritage. But during most of its occupation by the Armenians, Shusha was a “sad city” like the current Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan describe there recently. As Armenian nationalists mourned their recent loss of Shusha, Pashinyan bitterly exclaimed that Shusha was lost 30 years ago because little had been invested in it to develop or even maintain the city.
Shusha has enormous symbolic significance for Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The same goes for the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, which was home to almost half of the Azerbaijani population at the start of the 20th century, but was eventually completely evicted in 1988-89. The only surviving Blue Mosque in Yerevan was also renamed by the Armenian authorities as âPersianâ heritage. Viken Berberian focused exclusively on the Armenian tragedies without mentioning the well-known evidence of the massacres and expulsions of Azerbaijani from Armenia. Throughout the article, he limits this topic to a single sentence about Khojaly – a town that has been completely wiped out, including women and children among 613 victims.
The author further distorts the causes of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was waged by warlords Robert Kocharyan (1998-2008) and Serge Sargsyan (2008-2018) as well as by populist demagoguery. by outgoing President Nikol Pashinyan. According to Gerard Libaridian, former adviser to President Levon Ter-Petrosian (1991-1998), the Armenian side abandoned sober reasoning, while the entire international community spoke out against the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, especially the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh.
The whole tragedy of the conflict was sparked by the irredentist demands of the Armenian nationalists which they launched in February 1988. Dark and highly questionable historical “evidence” brought misery to Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The few reasonable voices among the Armenian diaspora have been stifled and suppressed by chauvinistic rhetoric. As the Armenian scholar Arman Grigorian (Lehigh University) Remarks, the Armenian media are responsible for encouraging the nationalist mythology that has led to the current situation.
Since the war is over, there is only one future, and that future is reconciliation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Propaganda pieces have no place in such efforts. It is too regrettable that the conversation and New York Book Review did not verify the spurious claims contained in these highly biased and controversial plays, about cultural heritage, history and conflict in general, before publishing them.