By | Rachel Brooks
February 18, 2021
Image credit: “six deaths…” by Esthr is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, Esther Dyson, see Section 107 U.S. Copyright Act for fair use sharing.
Above image was taken within the Moscow bureau of The New York Times in 2006, and shows the framed articles reporting the deaths of six Russian leaders.
Immediately following the events of February 26, 1992, in Khojaly, Azerbaijan, in which 613 people were massacred by the Armenian forces, the western press picked up the story. Western media has taken various tones with the Karabakh conflict over the many years it unfolded. Archives from such as The New York Times depict a reaction of initial international shock as the carnage settled into the painful position it would occupy in Azerbaijan’s history. However, the news narrative surrounding the Karabakh conflict has been held to high scrutiny in the years following the First Karabakh conflict.
In the research anthology “Azerbaijani pathway to independence” researcher Aynur Bashirli, who has been an active voice in criticizing western media coverage of Azerbaijan, highlighted the bias toward the Karabakh conflict 1988-1991 era. Bashirli’s research article in this anthology was entitled “Newspapers as the first draft of history”(The NYT Coverage of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: 1988-1991). This research gives the background of The New York Times’ incomplete narratives and biases toward the Azerbaijani interest in the Karabakh conflict before the events of the Khojaly massacre.
From the earliest days of the Karabakh conflict, The New York Times’ Moscow office reporters used Ivestiya and TASS News Agency as their primary sources. From the beginning, The New York Times’ coverage of the conflict was therefore discolored by the Soviet-slant impressed upon the regional territorial dispute.
“The first articles, Soviet Reports Major Unrest in Armenian Areas in South” and “A Dispute with Religious Overtones”, appeared on February 24, 1988, on pages A1 and A15, respectively. The authors of both articles were the correspondents of NYT’s Moscow service, P. Taubman and F. Barringer, while the primary news sources were the Izvestiya, a leading Soviet daily newspaper, and the TASS, the Soviet’s top news agency,” wrote Bashirli.
Bashirli called the views that emerged from this early coverage a Western analysis. The Western analysis concluded that nationalism was the greatest threat to the Soviet State. This was accurate, in the sense that the nationalism movement in Armenia had sparked the conflict. However, the serious flaw in the analysis from the beginning was the association of nationalism with the religious disparity of the region and drawing direct comparisons of the territorial dispute to Islamic movements in regionally approximated Iran. Rather, the nationalism movement was documented as a move of Armenian nationalism. Khojaly was targeted because of its position in territories that Armenia was pursuing. See this article for cross-reference.
“A Dispute with Religious Overtones”, clearly speaks for itself. The article’s lead focuses the readers’ attention on the religious aspect of the conflict, in the spirit of comparing “the ancient scars of geology with most recent scars of Islamic-Christian friction”, or facing “a center of Orthodox Armenia” with “the predominantly Moslem republic of Azerbaijan”,” wrote Bashirli (“A Dispute 223 P. Taubman, Soviet Reports Major Unrest in Armenian Areas in South, “New York Times”, 24.02.1988, p. A1. 224 Ibidem, p. A1. 225 Ibidem, p. A1. Aynur Bashirli )
On March 7, 1992, in the print edition, The New York Times reported “Angry Azerbaijanis Impel Chief to Quit” in response to the Khojaly massacre the week before. Western analysis of the regional conflict continued to contribute, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to the politicization of the ethnic cleansing in Khojaly. Armenia, to date, publishes a politicized narrative suggesting that the Azerbaijani government instigated the Khojaly ethnic cleansing as a means to insight political overthrow of the unpopular temporal president. See this article for more.
The western media’s reliance on the initial correspondence with the Moscow correspondence may have shaped the narrative to politicize the Khojaly massacre from the western media leadership. Turkish media surrounding the Khojaly massacre expressed outrage on Azerbaijan’s behalf.
The International Journal of Student Research republished work by Pashayeva Aynura, a Ph.D. in Philology, scientific worker, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences The Institute of Literature (named after Nizami Ganjavi) which chronicled the outrage in Turkish media over the Khojaly events from 2001-2018. The Turkish media expressed an urgency for the facts of the Khojaly massacre to be more widely known, outside of the initial disseminated narrative of politicization.
The Khojaly massacre was further developed into a political issue by this reaction. As the Turkish-speaking world began to rally to protest the media portrayal and lack of concern that Khojaly received, the Khojaly massacre was reviewed under the lens of the political argument above the issue of a massive violation of human rights that it is. The Turkish-speaking world called for the international community to recognize that the Khojaly massacre met the criteria for international laws prosecuting genocide.