Response commentary: Will global rhetoric allow Baku/Yerevan talks?

Rachel Brooks

March 17, 2021 

Image credit: “File:03 xojali ilgar.jpg” by Ilgar Jafarov is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Victims of the Khojaly massacre laid out. 

This piece is a work of response-commentary and opinion response to recent articles that appeared in Asbarez news and the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. The views expressed therein are attributed solely to the author. 

Baku is ready to open its communication channels with Armenia. This was signaled when Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with the OSCE Minsk Group chairs on Sunday. Public Radio of Armenia reported that these talks between Baku and Yerevan would be “a starting point for putting an end to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.” 

As a sign of good faith for the peace process, Azerbaijan has allowed the oil pipelines to start sending fuel from an alternative route through Gazprom lines to first Georgia and then Armenia, see Bloomberg. 

With hot issues such as the continuing civilian landmine crisis, talks are moving quickly by relative comparison. 

Yet, rhetoric continues to remain strong between Yerevan and Baku. Common outlets for heated political rhetoric include Asbarez, which pressed Moscow for comment over Aliyev’s remarks that Zangezur is Azerbaijani territory. Asbarez called Aliyev’s remarks “revisionist and threatening” citing a speech made by Aliyev on March 5 in a report that was published on March 12. The media site stated that Armenian Public Television pressed the Russian Foreign Minister to respond to Aliyev’s comments and said that the Foreign Minister “sidestepped” the issue. The Armenian media side continued to call Aliyev’s statements “provocative” and stated that he mentioned an “imaginary corridor” in Zangezur, which Aliyev stated was a historic Azerbaijani territory.

The rhetoric continues to be heated with some political mouthpieces signaling further attempts at claiming the Karabakh for Armenia. AzerNews reported on March 12 that the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Baramov and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar discussed Armenian political attempts that have threatened the process of rehabilitation in the Karabakh region. Reported issues included plainclothes combatants reentering the Karabakh region. The continued issue of mines left in the wake of the former occupying forces also suggests a protracted process toward rehabilitation in the post-conflict zone. 

Rhetoric is still hot between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but how much influence does the foreign press and non-regional Diaspora have to do with it?

Continued provocations of global rhetoric regarding the peace process have taken direct aim for the hearts and minds of Azerbaijani citizens. The Armenian Mirror-Spectator posted on March 10 a call to action against the Khojaly Massacre commemorations by American citizens. The author of this piece is Aram Arkun, the site’s managing editor, who also happens to be the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the US and Canada. 

The Khojaly Massacre anniversary was on February 26, and American citizens adopted resolutions to commemorate the deaths of those killed in the events of February 26, 1992. 

The article by Armenian Mirror-Spectator called the circumstances of the Khojaly events “disputed” even though there are eyewitness accounts of the actual occurrences by survivors. Armenian Mirror-Spectator instead cited the descriptions of the events by Markar Melkonian, the brother of Monte Melkonian, a Californian Armenian turned liberation rebel for Armenian, “evidence.” Melkonian was a regiment leader of the Armenian forces, who executed recon operations into the Khojaly territory and was present at the aftermath of the massacre. 

“There is evidence, including Markar Melkonian’s brief description in his biography of his brother, Monte, that Armenian soldiers killed at least over one hundred, and possibly hundreds of Azerbaijanis and Meskhetian Turks,” wrote the Armenian Mirror-Spectator,  in a self-contradictory statement.

“However, the circumstances of the shootings remain disputed, with Armenians stating that Azerbaijani soldiers took advantage of a corridor allowed for fleeing civilians and endangered the lives of those fleeing, while Azerbaijani ex-president Ayaz Mutalibov claimed the massacre was organized by his Azerbaijani political opponents to discredit him. Furthermore, there is some testimony and visual evidence of mutilation to corpses occurring after they already were on Azerbaijani territory.”

In comparison, defending the Melkonians’ and 1992 at-scene Armenian militia’s account of the events of Khojaly would be similar to using Osama bin-Laden’s opinions and recollections of  the planning and execution of the Al-Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York, as part of a piece justifying Islamism. The 9/11 attacks and the Khojaly Massacre are of equal national trauma to the United States and Azerbaijan respectively. Monte Melkonian was a military leader of the Armenian national movement, and had, according to his brother’s memoir of the events, considered the plotting of Khojaly as a “strategic” measure, and also an “act of revenge” as was recalled in his memoir “My Brother’s Road”. 

Reviews of the My Brother’s Road book also cited pp. 213–214 and state that Markar Melkonian recalls how some Azerbaijanis had nearly reached safety when the Armenian forces “chased them down.”   

Melkonian’s book also describes how the soliders “unsheated the knives that had on their belts for so long” and “began stabbing” according to a review of this book.

A direct page from the book, see photograph here, describes how Monte Melkonian had relayed to his brother the need to gain control on the battlefield, hosting a series of lightning attacks on Vesalu. Melkonian described how he arrived late to the Khojaly (Khojalu in Armenian) “massacre” which had just “wound down” by the moment he arrived there. The book describes how Melkonian had faced “insubordination” from Kardaghlu, and how he returned to Khojaly on February 26, 1992, which was the site of his “first recon operation three weeks earlier.”

The western rhetoric, before the Second Karabakh as the field of informational transfer between both Armenians and Azerbaijanis became a leveled playing field via social outlets such as Twitter, had leaned in favor of the Armenian rhetoric. The Gutenberg Project quoted Thomas de Waal as calling the events of Khojaly a “spontaneous” rather than “deliberately planned” attack, which is in contrast to the Melkonian biography in which it was described as “strategic.”

 The actions of Armenian nationalism movements in the 80s-90s should not be considered differently on the record than the actions of other extremist movements such as Al Qaeda. Defending the testimony of war-criminals is not conducive to forward-looking peace discussions. 

Yet, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator continued to add insult to injury by stating in the March 12 publication that there was “evidence” of “mutilation to corpses” occurring “after they already were on Azerbaijani territory.” The article adds this as if it was evidence that this mutilation was done by the Azerbaijani for political purposes. However, Melkonian’s own account of the events, relayed by his brother, describes how he witnessed women and children lying on the mountains “like broken dolls” and how the Armenian regiments had chased them down the mountains while they were attempting to escape to Aghdam. 

“However, the circumstances of the shootings remain disputed, with Armenians stating that Azerbaijani soldiers took advantage of a corridor allowed for fleeing civilians and endangered the lives of those fleeing, while Azerbaijani ex-president Ayaz Mutalibov claimed the massacre was organized by his Azerbaijani political opponents to discredit him,” wrote the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. 

“Furthermore, there is some testimony and visual evidence of mutilation to corpses occurring after they already were on Azerbaijani territory.”

It is worth noting that none of the visual evidence was cited in any form of media confirmation, and none of the direct testimony of this statement was quoted with a named source. This, by necessity, makes this statement rhetoric. The article then went on to incorrectly state the circumstances of pogroms that occurred at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and incorrectly place the provocation of conflict over the Karabakh region on Azerbaijan. The article then concluded with a statement regarding the “politicization” of the Khojaly massacre, by its commemoration through resolutions of solidarity, as more “striking” because of the recent events of the Karabakh war. 

Will this continued rhetoric block any future communication between Yerevan and Baku?

Yerevan and Baku may have an open corridor of communication. International mediators, including Russia, agree that this should happen, see TengriNews.  Azerbaijan has started piping oil to Armenia for the first time in 30 years. In return, the nation has asked that Armenia provide maps of the mine zones so that the mine-clearing process and rehabilitation in Karabakh can commence. These talks are mutually beneficial to both nations in the region, at their respective shared border. Yet, the heat of rhetoric coming from the pipeline of media narratives continues to go for the jugular of hurt and national trauma.

 

The author’s proposed solution.

Normalization talks and standard goodwill extensions may prove to not be enough to establish peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. A change in the pipeline of information between the two nations and their respective diasporas is in order.  A change in the media and the rhetoric of hate would be needful, to recondition the public on both sides of the conflict, that not only is a lasting peace possible, it is also admissible, venerable, and to be highly encouraged by the international community.