Geopolitics Information Warfare

Armenia exploits western Christianity for propaganda

By | Rachel Brooks

October 21, 2020

With the backing of Christian organizations that have fallen prey to the power of information warfare, Armenia has pleaded victimization and a direct threat against its international interests through the Church. An example of this is an article that appeared on Persecution.org, an organization aimed at raising awareness about the targeting of Christian-faith groups across the world. The article claims that demonstrations of Azerbaijani patriotism in Turkey’s Istanbul are “a direct threat to the Armenian patriarchate” in the area. The argument was made over the fact that the Azerbaijani displayed their flags on the same street in Istanbul that the Armenian patriarchate is located, which is Kumkapi street. The Armenian member of parliament, Garo Paylan, was vehement in his opposition to this demonstration.

“Allowing such a demonstration to be held on the street where the Armenian Patriarchate is located is a provocation. I urge the government to take the necessary measures regarding our Patriarchate and our institutions. The end of hate speech is hate crimes. Stop hate politics!” said Paylan. 

There is an irony to be found in the facts of this statement. For one, the religious propaganda of Armenia’s anti-Azerbaijani campaign could be described to the “t” as “hate politics” when one considers the complete intolerance for Azerbaijani assembly for their rights, or when it is clear that there is a direct threat perceived as “provocation” from a peaceful civil protest. But the article goes on to argue that the demonstration of the flag is likewise a provocation of Christianity because Armenia is “Christian” and Azerbaijan is “Islamic.” Even though, as mentioned throughout, Azerbaijan is a secular state, with a mixed religious heritage, that is not necessarily predominantly Islamic.

The facts are not so simple as the article declares either. The hanging of the flags was not a “provocation” of the current conflict, but a carryover of months of protest from the Azerbaijani population of Istanbul demanding Istanbul recognize their rights. Turan News reports a similar event that had taken place in April, in which the Azerbaijani population gathered in assembly to protest the Istanbul consulate’s failure to recognize their rights or to support them. The protestors came to the building of the Consulate General on April 15. The protest was aimed at pressuring for more Turkish diplomatic missions on behalf of Azerbaijani rights. One of the points discussed was the rates of rental housing of the expatriate Azerbaijani in Istanbul. It is worthy of note that these protests were peaceful and there is no documentation of any violent incident. 

The article then articles that it is important to remember “the context” of the setting, considering that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians “a century ago” that left 1.5 million people dead. It failed to note the fine points of the cross-political genocide of that period in which the Ottomans slaughtered Armenians, and the Armenians slaughtered Azerbaijani. The intricacies of the genocide of the 19th century were not explained, no dates were given. The article takes advantage of the historical ommission of the Khojaly Massacre of 1992 in favor of a genocide that took place in the 19th century. The Khojaly Massacre of the greater Aghdam area, and the brutality inflicted by Armenian nationalists against the civilians of that region, is an inconvenient truth of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, that, if known to the Christian community of the west, would likely sway their supportive opinions of Armenia as a nation-state.  

It was inserted into the argument for the emotional convenience of the audience, the audience is drawn to the plight of those who share their religion, the audience is not visiting Persecution.org to learn the fine-grain nuances of geopolitical fact. Therefore, Armenian propaganda has weaponized the well-meaning intent of Christian outlets by taking advantage of the blog outlet of this organization. The sympathetic nature of such an organization is thereby exploited so that the Armenian assault against its neighbor regions, and all voices that dissent against the Armenian nationalist regional aggression, will be silenced and slaughtered by the dollar of Christian charity. 

At the same time that the Armenian member of parliament in Istanbul was denouncing “hate politics” due to the appearance of the Azerbaijani flag in Istanbul streets, the Armenian government was hailing missiles upon civilian neighborhoods of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and breaking the terms of a 26-year ceasefire. The article that appears in Persecution.org was posted on September 29, two days after the assault along the entire border of Nagorno-Karabakh, which commenced on September 27. It also fails to account for the fact that Armenian provocations at the border, as of 2020, can be traced throughout the year, with another violent shelling occurring in the Tovuz region in July, see Daily Sabah for more. 

Despite this fact, the article that appears in Persecution.org concludes its many vague arguments by saying that the hanging of Azerbaijani flags in the street of Istanbul “strips Armenian Christians of their voice, and silences them.” It fails to take into account the mass support Armenia receives from the world media, while Azerbaijan receives minimal support in this theater, which is hence the reason for the protests in Istanbul. 

A strategy of repetition 

Another fact of the Armenian propaganda arm is to repeat the same rhetoric across many Christian outlets, and various other news agencies, to give it the appearance of legitimacy. A similar article entitled “Christians Under Assault: The Reverberations of the Armenian Genocide” appeared in Providence magazine. The article was published on July 1, just two weeks before the Armenian forces shelled the residential areas of the Nagorno-Karabakh. The article cites a judgment against Azerbaijan passed by the European Council of Human Rights, which is an extension of the Council of Europe. However, the Council of Europe is a human rights organization with 47 member states, independent of the European Union. It is headquartered out of France, which is a nation with a certain affinity to the Armenian side of the conflict.  

The article then goes on to hail back to the Ottoman-era genocide of 105 years ago, again failing to lay out the complex and cross-ethnic genocidal events of that era, and conveniently omitting the facts of the Khojaly massacre. 

A double betrayal of faiths

Over the last half-decade, Armenia has been held in the good faith of the western Christian community, but this is not always a mutual exchange. CSS researched the case of the Armenian state and the Armenian church teaming up against western religious groups. The CSS research found that Armenia domestically has deep wariness of Christianized religious groups in the west, including Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, and evangelical Christian denominations. Armenia considers its Christianity as removed from these sects. The theological belief system of Armenia is steeped in the teachings of the Armenian Apostolic Church. 

The CSS research also found that, within Armenia, statements have been released over the last five years from the clergy of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Republican Party of Armenia that has warned of the need to increase national security as well as spiritual security within the nation. The Apostolic Church warned that security measures must be taken against the other 65 recognized religious minorities of Armenia. While they are few, Armenia does have its citizens who dissent from the Apostolic faith. These believers are themselves Christians for the majority, with believers in the Russian Orthodox Church, as was stated by Advantour. Still, there is also a handful of Muslim and Jewish believers within the Armenian territory, and these are among those the state warns against. The Advantour research states that the Armenian Apostolic Church is the Christian church that purged Roman Catholicism and the Oriental Catholic Church from its belief system. 

It is this purist faith, then, that excludes the western Christianity from any true solidarity with Armenian Christianity. This is supported by Media Diversity Institute research that has documented, for the past two decades, the narrow field of religious freedom within Armenia. Armenians are under strict obligation not to depart in thought from the Armenian Apostolic Church. The obligation to the teachings of the Apostolic Church excludes the viewpoints of foreign missionaries. The research recorded by MDI dates back to 2004.  

In the knowledge of this rigid sectarian belief, Armenia continues to appeal to the Christian believers in the west and around the world for support. However, a narrow field of Christian faith groups would theologically agree with the precise state-steeped religion of Armenia. The Armenian Apostolic Church has its roots in the nationalism of Armenia. 

National roots of the Armenia Apostolic Church

Britannica gives the history of the Armenian Church as beginning with evangelism by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. In 300 AD, Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity on a national level. This is a fact the nation has used in many of its national campaigns. 

Corruption of the Church a crutch of the State

In the policy blog “Policy Forum Armenia”, a criticism of the Church entitled “The Temple is Crumbling” gave insights into the status of State theology from the inside perspective. “The Temple is Crumbling” was published in 2016, which was the same year as the Four Day War, the last significantly bloody conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan before 2020’s events. The authors describe the Church as an Armenian construct of the morally unattainable standard. “We were always told that the Armenian Apostolic Church is the bastion of religious, moral, cultural, and national strength…” the analysis begins. The temple of Armenian culture was held up against the eons of defense against Genghis Khan, the Tamerlanes, the Ottomans, and so on. The Church, because of its constant presence in Armenia’s many political conflicts over the centuries, has been adopted as the national cornerstone. Yet, the errant church, self-described as veering from the path by two Armenian clergymen, has been protected by its holy status from receiving and reformation or criticism. 

The two clergymen, who spoke at an event in Toronto, Canada, were effectively excommunicated from the church for sharing views that the Church could receive no criticism, and adapt no reform. The church is authoritarian, from dogma to governance. Worse still, from within the church is described as a puppet institution of the oligarchs and politicians. The foundations of the institution have slipped from beneath it, as it is no longer framed on spirituality, but rather on the preservation of its figurehead status as a leader of the state. The two clergymen, Reverend Melkonian and Reverend Berberian gave a plethora of examples of “corruption and dogmatism” at their panel. The key issues noted were those of anti-reformation.

The Church has silenced all the voices of the Armenian Diaspora who would seek to bring the church out of its antiquated structures and into the present. Defrocking of dissident voices, which may be only light critics of the structure, is the norm. Defrocking happens even to the most dedicated of the priests and has been known to take place among hundreds at once. 

The clergy also noted a pattern of nepotism and cronyism in the Church both in the domestic structure and throughout the Diaspora. The country’s where this manifested particularly were Canada, France, Switzerland, and the United States. This nepotism and cronyism were described as influencing parish elections. It was also inspired by “demagogic” greed among the higher clergy. The parish committee in these shriveled institutions is handpicked.  

All grievances described reflecting the same corruption of institutional influence that the European Catholic church exhibited during the Middle Ages. This is perhaps the strongest complaint among the Armenians the Church is sought after to represent. The antiquated system of the church serves as a hard shell around nationalistic politics, preventing modernized progress. Armenian policy discussions describe the local clergy as mere “shopkeepers” of a much larger institution with a completely disenfranchised voice. 

This was rhetoric repeated across Armenian commentary. Armenian Life said that the church needed to be “saved” from “in-house charlatans” who were masquerading as spiritual leaders. The crisis of corruption appears to focus on the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Across all outlets that dare to comment on the status of the Holy See, reports of “countless” testimonies of spiritual leaders losing their orientation as religious leaders, and more as nationalists. 

As recently as April, even Armenian leadership has lashed out at the Church as an institutional whole. Eurasianet reported a heated exchange between the Prime Minister of Armenia and the catholicos, over “politics and corruption.” The conflict stemmed over Catholicos Karekin II stating that the ex-President Robert Kocharyan should be released from internment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kocharyan was arrested due to his cabinet’s response to the March 2008 political protests, called the “March 1 Events”. The Kocharyan response was particularly violent. The idea that Kocharyan could be released drove the current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to ire because he was arrested during the protests of March 2008 and spent two years in prison as a result. 

Eurasianet further reported that ire increased as the National Security Agency, which replaced the KGB in Armenia, had investigated Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan over a loan for an African diamond mind in 2012, which he obtained through money laundering.

The Church used the armor of its sacredness to protect against the political protest it received, denied allegations, and called the protest against itself “bewildering.” This division and ambition within the Church and State braided together like a noose around the neck of Armenian governance is a driving factor in the continued exploitation of western goodwill and the illegal pursuit of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

As recently as August 2020, Christianity bloggers at Asbarez have documented the Church’s tendency to rally pan-Armenian donations to the restoration of holy relics. Even though the relationship between the Armenian people and the Armenian Church is that of an abusive parent with an abused child, the roots are deep. The rivalry between Church and State, and yet the codependency of both, is gasoline and fire to the status of Armenian foreign nationalist ventures, caught in the wake of the ruin that unfolds within Armenia itself. 

The exploitation of the ethnic similarities of Turks-Azerbaijani to draw relative lines

Likewise, the current anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric of Armenian nationalist propaganda also takes advantage of the Turkic connections ethnically of both the Turkish and the Azerbaijani. The propaganda frames the belief of Westerners that Turkey and Azerbaijan are equivalent, that the Republic of Azerbaijan is somehow complicit in the governmental actions of Turkey. This is why the narrative of the current conflict in Azerbaijan leans so heavily to focus on the actions of the Turkish state. Azerbaijan is, however, its nation, with its international interests, and the status of its relations with Turkey are not so cut and dry as the propaganda would lead casual observers to believe. 

This article also projects that the Turkish and Azerbaijani nations are conspiring to form a “pan-Turkic” nationalist philosophy, laying the blame of Armenian nationalism at the feet of the Azerbaijani and the Turks in general. It exploits the “machinations” of the Young Turks at the time of the Ottoman genocide, stating that this opinion guides the current nations to repeat offend and drive a current Armenian Genocide. What it fails to address is that, before the close of the Young Tuk party’s offensive against the Armenians of the 19th century, Armenian nationalists waged genocide against the Azerbaijani who lived in what is now Stepanakert, which is named for the architect of the massacre there. 

One key reason why “pan-Turkism” is an incorrect and presumptive analysis of the Azerbaijani state is the Persian ethnic influences on Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is Turkic ethnically, but it is also Persian and a variety of other cultural influences. Azerbaijan was never joined in statehood with Turkey, despite shared ethnic markers. Azerbaijan, in recent history, was a series of khanates that came together as one republic before the USSR occupied and destroyed this first attempt at modern governance. Therefore, a nationalistic bent toward the current Turkish state would not be in the direct interest of Azerbaijan or its diaspora, and would not factually be plausible. 

Ethnic exploitation plays on western Christian Islamic anxiety 

In the west, radical Islam has left a poorly understood trauma. Christians of the west in particular feel the fear and dread of radicalized Islam from an isolated place of poor understanding. They recall seeing the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, and they recall Christian persecutions topping headlines in places such as Raqqa, Syria, Burkina Faso, and others. Yet, the western Christian is isolated from these events in such a way as to add some surreality to them and increase the anxiety that surrounds their almost mythic presence in the western discussion of religious rights and radical extremism. It is this instilled fear of Islam in general that Armenia exploits by engaging the western Christian community in thinking of Azerbaijan as a Shia nation.