Western biases in news coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

"Scud missile" by ppz is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

October 19, 2020


Those who dare to report concerning the biases of western media toward the Armenian side of the conflict are often met with threats and censorship. The tweet quoted above was from an account that no longer exists and that was blocked by the policies of western social media content-convenience sifting.

The motives of the conflict  

The shifting narrative surrounding the conflict’s motives is to blame, in part, for the exploitation and propagandizing of western voices mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Talking points of the shifting narrative include religious persecution and ethnic cleansing. The war is motivated by economics.

“The attacks on #Azerbaijan are not about “self-defense” by #Armenia. This is economic warfare to disrupt flow of oil to Europe, “said security analyst Irina Tsukerman. 

“Europe’s economic dependence on Iran’s and Russia’s oil is a major fact in both countries’ ability to expand influence & to meddle in other countries.”

Tsukerman had previously analyzed her positions in her article “Russia and Iran’s Dangerous Energy Gambit in the Caucasus” which was published by the Besa Center. 

This is supported by the Armenian shelling of the BTC Oil line October 6. 

The facts of the conflict being economically motivated are further supported by Luke Coffey’s review with the Heritage Foundation. Coffey’s review fact-checked the motivations for fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh and found no factual support of religious incentive. Coffey also warned that, should the U.S. mean to follow the terms set forth by its 2017 National Security Strategy, it cannot ignore the events and escalations in the South Caucasus, particularly the Armenian millitance toward Azerbaijan and the problems continued conflict causes for the Iranian Regime. 

Even Western unbiased coverage is “biased” 
The economic interest summary of the conflict is shrouded in the smoke screen of political biases that, even when boasting a lack of bias, still have narrative spins that lead again to biases. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has the westernized appearance of being over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory’s demand for “self-representation”.  

The western press takes the position that the Nagorno-Karabakh is a proxy war of Turkey and spins the narrative thus. Some examples of bias include Modern Diplomacy’s coverage which includes strong condemnation language such as the piece “Is Turkey turning Azerbaijan into a pariah state?”. 

The western biases against the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict do not appear to be directed at the local disruptions themselves, but rather toward suppositions about their impact on foreign policy. Major western outlets make rapid-fire suppositions about the greater power scheme over the assumed proxy war. For example, NBC published a story headlined Cheap drones from China, Turkey and Israel are fueling conflicts like Armenia and Azerbaijan’s. The article made the argument that nations foreign to the South Caucasus were fueling the conflict by supplying it with weaponry. The article alleges that Armenia is desperately fighting against the high-tech Bayarat Drones supplied to Azerbaijan by Turkey. The problem with the argument and bias from this major news network is that it fails to address how Armenia also has access to high power weapons such as the SCUD missiles that were fired upon Ganja, the same type of missile that was used in Saddam Hussein’s Gulf War. 

Meanwhile, the Nagorno-Karabakh recent escalations have resulted in the targeting of civilians far outside the fighting lines in Ganja, and thus belies the need for Armenia to establish its domination in the regions the enclave of its subordinate nationals occupy.  The west argues that it is a move of independence, yet regionally, it is defined as a fascist movement. 

U.S. Political rhetoric 

Despite knowing this, the most vocal advocates of antifascism in the U.S. government, such as Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, have taken a position that is polar opposed to Azerbaijan’s place in the conflict. Schiff wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress that detailed some of his personal biases. 

“We have persisted in this policy even as Azerbaijan launched countless assaults and as their leadership frequently threatened war to redraw the line of contact by force,” said Schiff’s statement. 

“Today, it appears that Azerbaijan and Turkey are determined to make good on those threats, and our policy must adjust accordingly. I believe the United States should make clear to Azerbaijan and Turkey that if they persist in this violence instead of embracing a peaceful settlement of the conflict, we are prepared to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent nation, and to work with the International Community to achieve the same.” 

Schiff also supposed that Erdogan and Aliyev had co-conspired against civilians, which is not-factual. 

“Presidents Aliyev and Erdogan must understand that they cannot resolve a decades long border dispute though the indiscriminate use of force against civilians, and the United States will not stand idly by as they attempt to do so. The only resolution of this dispute can be through negotiations, not raining artillery and bombs on Armenian civilians.”

Independence and self-definition is an illusion to string the West along

There is a sense of perpetual biases toward the agenda of Yerevan, that is the Armenian nationalist empty guarantee of a greater statehood dream to the expatriated Armenians in the faux republic of Artsakh. The Armenian state never grants them real recognition or freedom of “self determination” that is the mantra of continuing the land grab. The Yerevan agenda now holds sway with the lobbying seat in Los Angeles County, California, with the American National Committee of Armenia or ANCA, and with the U.S. Democratic National Convention. 

Western biases toward the South Caucasus have their roots in western domestic upheaval

Biases in the Western media have their roots in the Western political argument strategy. Western geopolitics are typically black and white. Geopolitical issues are drawn around a perception of “heroes and villains.” In the western press of 2020 era, Armenia has immortalized its plight by playing off of the identity politics that shape so much of the western thought process of today’s “hero and villain” theater. Armenia was the object of a poorly-understanding genocidal era at the end of the Ottoman empire and the beginning of the Soviet Union. Armenia has exploited this identity as a post-genocidal state to hide its political malfeasance of today_because Armenia was at once a victim, the state must remain as a victim. This is harmful to the Armenian agenda and mythos of Greater Armenia due to the nullification of Armenia as a state power_it will always been seen as a subordinate in the minds of the state leaders in treaty alliance if does not establish current national identity that is independent of its victimized past, and media-contrived victimized present. 

The biases of the western world toward the South Caucasus have had an impact on the reception of the west in the South Caucasus. In 2016, the Russia and Eurasia Programme noted that the sentiment of western adoration was changing in the region. 

Realities of the war tabled for the convenience of rhetoric 

So, while it is a documented fact that Ganja was the target of a missile warfare that employed the use of SCUDS artillery with a 600km range on civilians, Armenia still manages to garner western sympathy. From the sole same mouthpieces as are promoting tolerance and peace, and the restitution of racism in the western political theater. It is inconvenient to publish the truths of the Nagorno-Karabakh for what they are, and the truth of Armenian nationalistic agenda for what it is, because it flys in the face of the double standards of western political biopic thinking. Issues in the west are divided into groups of “moral” and “deplorable” as we see the lexiconical patterns of American Democrats. This lexiconical pattern difference is noted in the Stanford University study of the language used in American political bipartisan speech. The study researched both American Democrats and American Republicans. 

The study found the nature of pure polarization that characterizes American identity politics to be easily identifiable in the speech patterns of the politically vocal. These speakers have become mouth pieces of a conflict that is as nuanced as anthropology can allow-transpiring in the path of the Silk Road. Leveraging the dogmatic thought and polarization of American politics is a prime strategy for a think tank wishing to master propaganda. To serve the Armenian nationalist agenda, Armenia has worn the face of what either western party would want to see. They have played the genocidal victim to the Democratic nation and demanded absolution of their naturalized home in Los Angeles_which the Armenian nationalists now assume is a part of the vision of Greater Armenia. They have played the persecuted church to the right-wing Republic thought of western politics, which fosters a love for religious expression, tradition, virtues, and civil liberties.

 Americans, then, caught in the sheer force of the crosstalk that fuels their own polarization, use the Armenian propaganda as a talking point for their domestic interests. It exposes the fallacy of western oversimplification of geopolitics. It exposes a deep misunderstanding of the South Caucasus and its culture that is an aberration of the anti-racist movement, which calls for cultural diversity, anti-facism, and inclusivity. The Armenian agenda that is anti-Turkic and seeks to completely remove Turkic people’s from the equation is both racist and facist as it is driven by the need to establish an Armenian state, even on illegally occupied land, ethnically cleanse Turkic people from having a vehicle of expression in the international community. It is facist and colonial in the time of anti-facism and anti-colonialism as Armenia pressed forward to promote its Greater Armenia and eliminate the facts of its own repeat history of genocidal offending when pursuing vengeance upon what it perceives as the shadow of the Ottomans in the modern day friendly ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey. 

The behavior of American commentary on these issues has exposed a grave double standard in American foreign rhetoric, as the argument now is that Turkey seeks a proxy war in supporting Azerbaijan. No facts support the multitude of claims Armenia has fed the few war journalists that venture to this front in terms of a brokered Syrian mercenary exchange, or in the pan-Turkism hysteria that Greater Armenia activists preach. Yet, the west sees the war in Nagorno-Karabakh as nothing more than a proxy of Turkey’s Ottoman revival vision and the ideation of an Islamic Republic of Turkey_because they see it through the keyhole of the Armenian rhetoric toward their mortal enemy. 

The west fails to understand the nuances in this attempt to categorize, to “box up” geopolitical issues so that they can easily and fierily unbox them in debates of the American self-interest. America reveals that it thinks of foreign policy from the eyes and ears of “America first” meaning that it relates geopolitics only to how it reflects the American agenda and not what is the best solution for geopolitical diplomacy. 

With the South Caucasus, the rules of this biopic political discourse have changed entirely. For one, while well supported by Turkey in terms of anti-Armenian genocidal campaign, Azerbaijan and Turkey have not ever been joined in statehood. Likewise, Azerbaijan is not nor has it been an Islamic republic. It is a multi-ethnic secular state. The idea that Azerbaijan and Turkey are rallying to form an Islamic republic in the name of pan-Turkish conquest over the region is absurd when one examines all the facts. For one, the alliance that Azerbaijan has formed with Israel severely dims the chances of being accepted into any Islamic clerical brotherhood when laying down the legal code for a new state. Azerbaijan has been excluded from Iran’s regime despite ethnic Azerbaijan being the largest minority group in Iran for this reason. Because the Shia Muslim population of Azerbaijan has rejected clerical control over Azerbaijan, and because the secular state has embraced healthy economic ties with Israel, Iran would never accept them in full. 

These narrow arguments continue to flail around the mixed salad of biased facts even in the most unbiased reportage on the conflict as the west struggles with the ambiguity of the layered and long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The rhetoric likewise plays on Europe’s graces, calling on France, as the particular placating voice in world politics, to take the Armenian side. 

France, however, has a fundamental problem with its own domestic politics when approaching Armenia’s self-identification as a Christian state. France has the ts laicite law that values the complete divorcement of the secular state from religion, all while keeping inclusivity. 

Shaping French rhetoric for Armenia 

Foreign Policy has described some forms of the French laicite as being fundamentalist, as early as 2016. Foreign Policy described the fundamentalist values of laicite as verging on militant. Why then would France, with its heavy lean toward pro-secularism be concerned with the Armenian plight, which plays off of the power of religious Christian leaning to push forward its geopolitical agendas, the world may wonder. 

Armenia proceeds by calling on the Western powers in the OSCE Minsk group to side with Armenia and unequivocally condemn Azerbaijan for exercising its right to self-defense against the Armenian assault, which violates the terms of the U.N. ceasefire treaty of 1994 and the CSTO terms for member states. Armenia has sensed some affinity to its cause from the French, because France heads the Council of Europe, which has provided Armenia with goodwill. 

Bne Intellinews reports an example of the Armenian plea to France with calls on Paris to “abandon neutrality” and side with Armenia. The calls play off the war of words that the French leader Emmanuel Macron continues to exchange with Erdogan over the conflict. These calls for condemnation circumvent Azerbaijan in the discussion entirely. They take the shortest route to the western agenda, and fail to balance the biases. 

The west cannot allow Erdogan’s hegemony to excel. The west has quite incorrectly analyzed Erdogan’s vocal condemnation of the Armenian onslaught on another Turkic people as a rallying cry for pan-Turkism because of the polarized “hero and villain” mentality that modern Turkey is “Neo-Ottoman” and Azerbaijan have Turkish influence therefore they must also be 100 percent backing of Turkish political interests. It is for this reason that Azerbaijan has requested the presence of Turkey in talks over the conflict, viewing France’s membership in the OSCE Minsk Group as compromised, and no longer neutral, due to the French sympathizing with Armenia. 

France, while dominating the views of a secular divorcement of church and state, boasts of the wide reach of its social inclusivity. For this reason, France with its ethnic and culture influence over the Armenian diaspora has been pulled into the conflict. Daily Sabah stated  that Armenians who previously resided in France have joined forces on the Nagorno-Karabakh line as recently as the week of October 7, to fight with Yerevan. 

American domestic politics and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict 

Despite internal pressure from Adam Schiff and the Democratic Representative of New Jersey, the United States has elected to maintain neutrality at its state level. This is not reflected by the politically warring media of the United States, which is loud in its condemnation of U.S. neutrality in the conflict, given the heavy presence of Armenian lobbying in the U.S. The press has, thus, turned its saber against U.S. leadership, calling the U.S. “absentee” in the talks regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet, strategically, the United States’ position of neutral and mostly external conflict mediation, being a present supportive factor toward regional peace but not an active force for either side, is a stability factor in the conflict. The U.S., as was analyzed by military defense analyst Benjamin Minick, cannot risk becoming a too forceful component of the South Caucasus politics at a time when Russia and the former Soviet Union states are engaged in multi-faceted demonstrations of sovereignty and military prowess. The dominos that could tip with the United States viewed by the Eastern political arm as a “combatant” could be catastrophic. 

Despite this, the press argues that U.S. “absence”, as they allege, risks “ a wider war” in the region. This, as stated by Just Security.org, has fallacies of logic. For one, it is a factor of mere numbers. Armenia is a smaller republic, with a smaller physical military force, and less funding from its government to pursue a long game offensive. Azerbaijan has a much larger military force and economy at its disposal and could effectively “prepare for siege” if it was required. Azerbaijan has expressed cooperative rhetoric in the Russian-mitigated ceasefire talks, expressing the desire to reach a humanitarian solution. Apart from the press rhetoric, talks with Azerbaijan have been positive. If, therefore, the U.S. was to continue to mediate the terms of ceasefire from a neutral end, such as to mediate the end of war profiting campaigns in the region from foreign lobby, and to provide the means to enforce international laws, such as those laws which recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a region of the republic of Azerbaijan, the fighting would eventually cease as it would eventually run out of realistic funds.

However, if the U.S. was to involve itself in terms of direct supply of state funds or weaponry, this would be to give one side, the documented aggressor side, the means to perpetuate the conflict that had its genesis in propaganda. This would see scenarios such as Ganja repeated without a determined end. It would also see heavy casualties of both national groups and all ethnic groups involved, which would be the defeat of the purpose of the identity political lobby that spurred U.S. hands-on involvement in the first place. 

Russia, as the third mediating official seat at the OSCE Minsk Group table, has taken a similar position to the United States in terms of present-but-neutral mediator. Russia has acted as the direct proctor of the last two ceasefire talk attempts. 

While national leaders continue to play their cards carefully, the press continues to forecast an analysis of all the implications that the conflict will bring if states do not act. But the cycle of intimidation marketing, and the need to act immediately on Armenia’s behalf is a common strategy of the propaganda arm it created and nurtured under the Bolsheviks. The article that appears in  Just Security that projects the implications for Iran over the regional conflict, suggesting that Azerbaijan has allied itself with Turkey for the pan-Turkism rhetoric that is so frequently bandied about. This article incorrectly states that the conflict “poses a danger for the world” if not directly addressed and also draws lines between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey calling Armenia “Christian,” Azerbaijan “Shia” and Turkey “Sunni.” While it is factual that Armenia professes a predominate Apostolic Christian presence, and while it is fact that Turkey has a heavy Islamic influence, it is simply not fact that Azerbaijan is a “Shia” state or that Shia politics influences it to join some Islamic trifecta power in the region. 

Some of the press rhetoric toward the conflict likewise continues to force the issues of said conflict unintentionally. Besa Center posted an article on October 16 that highlights all the talking points of Iran as it watched the conflict unfold. Iran has been directly jeopardized by the conflict in terms of stray ordinance striking Iranian territory. Iran now incorrectly identifies Azerbaijan as the aggressor in the conflict, largely in part of Azerbaijan’s western friendly principles. Iran recognizes that the Nagorno-Karabakh zone belongs since post-historical antiquity to the people groups forming Azerbaijan, and yet, the Supreme Leader has allowed Iran to court Armenia of late, citing Besa Center. 

The Fars News agency was responsible for reporting an unverified story that Turkey had supplied Azerbaijan with Syrian mercenaries. This report has become a talking point across the western media as to why the west should directly engage and support Armenia in the effort to absorb the shock of a proxy war. The danger of this is that no such event can be confirmed. 

Tasnim News took it a step further in alleging that the U.S. and Israel had direct involvement in the conflict on the ground as well, spurring on Azerbaijan. This is also an event that has not been officially documented or confirmed in reports made from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense or by other officials and mediators of the Azerbaijani interests in the conflict. This is evidence of the instance where Iranian and Armenian propaganda are absorbing one another and feeding from the growth of hysteria spread. 

Russian fear of Islamification, and the flames of Western anxiety 

Russia has sounded the alarm with its rhetoric, published in Reuters, that Nagorno-Karabakh will become an Islamic enclave if the conflict continues. This plays again off the international rhetoric, influenced by western biases to the region and the Armenian propaganda arm, that the Azerbaijani are Shia and that Azerbaijan is a Shia clerical state. This is false, but the hysteria of it has led the world to panic over a spread of Azerbaijan as an arm of the Islamic Republic. The foreign intelligence service directorate of Russia stated, republished in the western press, that the conflict was attracting people described as “mercenaries and terrorists from the Middle East.” 

The problem with this statement is that it fails to specify the facts of this militant magnetism. All that SVR Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin could offer was a statement that the South Caucasus would become a “launchpad for international terrorist organizations” and that “already hundreds and thousands of radicals were joining the fight.” 

The trouble with the omission of detail in this rhetoric is the fear-mongering it provides and the urgency it creates against western biases who will assume that, because Azerbaijan has been defined to them as a Shia state, that the militants have an association with the Azerbaijani forces. Azerbaijan as a secular state would serve as a security wall to the fears that Russia is stimulating with such rhetoric.

Mediation of Western biases then, have up to this point created problems for themselves due to these biases. As the OSCE Minsk Group continues to discuss the terms of ceasefire, it risks repeat failure in Nagorno-Karabakh policy as propaganda continues to manifest without check.

Realistic fears of extremism, but wrong direction 

The Russian intelligence agency has realistic fears of Islamic enclave uprising in the region, but the supposition of Azerbaijani culpability creates a wider-spread problem. Brenda Schafer, a Middle East security expert and commentator for Reuters News, highlighted this is her coverage of the backfiring issues of the U.S. international religious freedom efforts.   

Under the Trump Administration, religious freedom globally has become a major effort of U.S. foreign policy. President Trump’s executive order which devoted additional resources to foreign religious freedom efforts has the appearance of promise. The Trump administration drafted the order on the effort to promote the cardinal right of religious freedom granted to United States citizens as a basic right of international law. 

The U.S. delegates these protections of religious freedoms to agencies such as the USCIRF and to NGOs. However, these agencies have their own policies that sometimes conflict with the self-same religious freedom they seek to promote. Schafer noted that the U.S. drafted recent chapters against the republic of Azerbaijan, which considered Azerbaijan’s stance against the Muslim Unity Movement as a “repression of believers” and the listing of incarcerated combatants as “religious prisoners”. The U.S. lack of understanding of Azerbaijan as a secular state with humanitarian policy is partially to blame for the suppression against Islamic clerical activity. The Muslim Unity Movement is financially backed by Iran and is traced to credibly acts of violence. 

Enter Armenia with its assumed Christian values. The western mind takes the Armenian side because Armenia claims to fight for religious freedom and tolerance in the region, while Azerbaijan appears to do the opposite. In this event, Islamic extremism blossoms in the flowerbed of propaganda and the weakened position of the legally legitimized state in the region. 

Mike Doran, with the Hudson Institute, commented early in October that the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s progression has the power to stir a breakaway movement among the Azerbaijani of Iran, and catalyze an uprising against the Islamic Republic.