Fact check of media coverage regarding Sadikov’s MoD departure

"Military Committee in Chiefs of Staff Session with Interoperability Platform Partners" by NATO is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

March 4, 2021 

Image credit: “Military Committee in Chiefs of Staff Session with Interoperability Platform Partners” by NATO is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.Sadikov, pictured left. Shared here for news-related fair use purposes. See Section 107 U.S. copyright act. 

Reports circle the Defense Minister of Azerbaijan Najmaddin Sadikov questioning his whereabouts as he left military service. Eurasianet reported on March 3 that rumors of “treason” have floated regarding the former defense minister’s dismissal. In contrast, APA News out of Azerbaijan reports that Sadikov exited military service due to “major health concerns.’ It was reported by APA News that Sadikov has recently undergone “open heart surgery” in Moscow. Sadikov is aged 64 and had been in military service from 1975 to January 2021 when his absence was addressed officially by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense. 

English-language coverage of Sadikov’s absence 

The controversy appears to be fueled, in part, by the western coverage of information regarding the Karabakh conflict. The open-edit platform Wikipedia lists Sadikov as having been confirmed dismissed by the Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan. Wikipedia based this statement off of a report from Media.az which cited that the Ministry of Defense had “disseminated” about the dismissal of Sadikov and his “transfer to reserve.” Yet, this report was not categorical confirmation that Sadikov had been dishonorably discharged from the service, and when the Ministry of Defense did not speak to confirm the specific circumstances of Sadikov’s departure, many speculations filled headlines.  

APA reported that the Defense Ministry responded to its request for information regarding Sadikov that he is not currently in active military service, but made no further elaborations. 

Rumors appear to center around the fact that Sadikov’s name has been removed from the Defense Ministry’s structural website. Eurasianet called Sadikov’s disappearance from service “mysterious.” 

July was the peak of the rumor controversy, citing Eurasianet report 

Rumors of the former leader’s disappearance were at an all-time high in July, citing Eurasianet. Yet, Sadikov has been seen publicly since he has left the defense forces, and was a pallbearer at the funeral ceremony of Colonel General Zakir Hasnaov, as was reported by the Azerbaijani news outlet Qafqaz info. Eurasianet’s report stated that a crowd of at least 30,000 people gathered in Baku in July 2020 to protest the deaths and called on Sadikov to resign. The reports stated that the gathering had started in support of the military but then led to an anti-government protest. 

The conflicting reports continued despite his appearances. Social media accounts via Twitter that claimed ties to Azerbaijan stated that there were confirmed reports Sadikov has been fired from around October. Some rumors implied that Sadikov was under house arrest. 

Statements that backed the rumors regarding Sadikov’s firing came from Azerbaijani journalist social media such as the Twitter handle of Samir Kazmili. Kazmili stated that Sadikov was one of the most damaging people to the Azerbaijani military and he called upon him to resign. This incident was recalled by the Azerbaijani political commentary site Yenixeber.org. 

Many of the reports that Sadikov had been arrested likewise were circulated from Reddit sources and were flagged by the forum platform as “unreliable” and “unverified.” 

Also, the Reddit sources were tagged by the forum platform site as being posted by Armenian user accounts. For example, one post in question was published to Twitter by username u/Antranik. The specific user account with this name has been associated with the Armenian community of Los Angeles and Glendale, California. This user account posted directly into the thread of Reddit’s Armenia-related community, as well as into separate unrelated community accounts for Glendale and Los Angeles. 

In addition to this, the report shared by u/Antranik via Twitter was posted on October 3, 2020, at 2 pm Central Daylight Time, or Chicago time, as the Reddit site is set in. A photo of Sadikov seated with other Azerbaijani Army leadership appeared on the Azerbaijani MoD website on October 4 at 11:23, and was obtained by Eurasianet.  Accounting for the time difference between Chicago and Baku, the photos from the Azerbaijani MoD that Sadikov appeared in were still on the MoD’s site were during or after the time frame that the Reddit reports circulated he had been fired and arrested. The site posted the photos at that time, which would suggest that the official decision regarding Sadikov had not been made as of 11:23 am local time Baku on October 4, discrediting this report further. 

Also, reports of Sadikov’s arrest and removal appeared to circulate online stating that Azerbaijan had removed a “Russian spy” from office, referring to Sadikov, on October 1. This report was discredited by the photos of Sadikov that appeared on the MoD site as of October 4. 

Likewise, reports of Sadikov’s “house arrest” often began with language such as “in my opinion” see Axar. az. Likewise, the statement regarding Sadikov’s early dismissal that was at the core of many of the rumors came from MP Agil Abbas, and stated that Sadikov had been “apparently removed as soon as the war began.” However, the war began on September 27, and photos of Sadikov appeared to circulate on the Azerbaijani MoD site on October 4. This would be almost a week into the war, which slightly discredits what Abbas said. 

News of Sadikov’s health problems echoed but not cross-referenced

In response to the political tabloid circulation regarding Sadikov, several Azerbaijani news outlets connected to the government denounced the rumors and highlighted Sadikov’s career. In addition to APA News, Day reported that Sadikov had undergone surgery. The news that Sadikov had major health problems likewise circulated the news cycle on the same day as the Azerbaijani MoD officially confirmed to the press that Sadikov was no longer in military service. Day news, however, cited APA News as the original poster for its information. This would be an echoing of this report rather than a new acquisition of information. In addition to this, APA did not cite a source for their report. 

Fact check conclusion 

It is still unclear what Sadikov’s precise whereabouts are, or the circumstances of his departure from the armed forces. Reports circulating his affiliation as a Russian spy or his removal and house arrest from the Azerbaijani MoD have come from unreliable or inconclusive sources. Information regarding the Karabakh conflict is often subjected to Armenian propaganda and western outlet biases. Discretion is advised when researching the Karabakh conflict from these sources.