Western institutional biases concerning Armenia and Azerbaijan

By | Rachel Brooks

Special Guest | Aynur Jafar 

December 23, 2020

Above, pictured. A mosque in Aghdam, where our special guest was born. Such mosques as this were later used as barns for pigs and cows during the Armenian occupation. 

In response to the recent complaints that western institutions such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Republic Underground interviewed a nonpartisan opinion of the western biases concerning Armenia and Azerbaijan. Aynur Jafar, who has been known to criticize the Aliyev government in Azerbaijan, is a lawyer who was internally displaced by the conflict of 1988-1994 era.

What is your opinion of the recent lopsided coverage of western media on the Karabakh war? 

Unfortunately, many western media institutions took a biased position against Azerbaijan during the second Karabakh war. There were many articles published in well-known media outlets that did not cover the history of the conflict properly and tried to present a modified narrative to their audience as if Azerbaijan was attacking Armenia or started the war out of nothing. They tried to neglect the fact that Azerbaijan’s territories were occupied by Armenia 28 years ago, and all Azerbaijan was trying to do was liberate its territories from the occupation after decades of fruitless conflict mediation. 

Many institutions neglected the fact that international legislation recognized Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. They likewise neglected the fact of the Armenian occupation. 

For instance, the population in 7 adjacent districts in Karabakh consisted of 98% of Azerbaijanis before the occupation. At the beginning of the occupation Armenian authorities in their statements agreed that those were Azerbaijani territories and they stated that those 7 regions were occupied by the Armenian forces to use them in the negotiation process. However, later Armenia started claiming those territories too and started calling them “liberated [from ethnic Azerbaijanis]territories.” This fact was not properly covered by many media institutions and they used language that softened Armenia’s occupation policy. 

International media and society’s approach toward Karabakh was quite disappointing and very different from the reactions we saw in similar situations, such as the Russian occupation of Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in Georgia, as well as the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Russian involvement in Donetsk/Lugansk areas. 

Western countries always openly call those instances an occupation, but when it comes to the Karabakh conflict, we have not observed a similarly strong condemnation. Even though the occupier in the Karabakh conflict was Armenia it has been known by everyone that Russia has historically used Armenia as its forpost in the Caucasus/ Turkish neighborhood and has heavily relied on Armenia for its agendas, and therefore has supported it and has fueled the conflict. Therefore, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is not much different than the above-mentioned conflicts. 

Another distinction between those conflicts and Karabakh is that majority of Azerbaijan’s population identifies as Muslim (culturally), even though it is quite secular. 

Also, one of the patterns was that many westerners as well as Armenians tried to use Azerbaijan’s dictatorial regime as an excuse for the occupation. They failed to see or preferred ignoring Azerbaijanis’ perception and their sentiment related to Karabakh. 750000 IDPs’ rights should not have been ignored because of the authoritarian ruling of Azerbaijan. I have always been a critic of the Azerbaijani government, and I understand that perception. At the same time, completely ignoring Azerbaijanis’ connection to Karabakh and its importance for them and trying to find an excuse for their loss is neither moral nor fair. I am from Karabakh, and I lived 27 years of my life as an IDP from Agdam. 

My personal observation was that when I criticized the Aliyev regime, it was welcomed by the westerners. However, they were blind to my loss of my home and my 27 years of sorrow. To me, it is a selective approach to justice which is unacceptable. When politicians do it, I can understand it as their political interests overcome sentiments. But when human rights organizations do that, I stop accepting them as a reliable source of information.   

Why do you suppose the west has covered the war crimes committed against Armenians but has not paid equal attention to the war crimes committed by Armenians against the Azerbaijani people? 

There is a significant bias against Azerbaijan and I am also trying to understand the reason. I assume that the bias is related to Azerbaijan’s Muslim background. The way some human rights organizations reported on war crimes was shocking to me. For instance, Human Rights Watch recently issued a report calling “missile attack” on the Armenian church in Shusha a war crime. One of the most surprising things for me was Human Rights Watch named Shusha, a historical Azerbaijani city, “Shushi” – the name Armenians used for Shusha after the occupation as part of Armenians ethnic cleansing policy against Azerbaijanis.

 When organizations like Human Rights Watch use the vocabulary of separatists, it sounds like a justification of the ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis. Moreover, during the 27 years of occupation, over 60 of the Azerbaijani mosques were destroyed by Armenians. Many of them were used as pigsties as well. 

None of these distractions have been called a war crime or condemned by organizations like Human Rights Watch. Their answer to these incidents was that they only cover war crimes related to the 44-days-long war. 

Even if this is the main reason, during the 44-days-long war Armenia launched missile attacks on the city of Ganja also damaged an Azerbaijani mosque. I am sure Human Rights Watch had information about that since its representatives visited Ganja and investigated the missile attacks. However, the attack on the Azerbaijani mosque was not called a war crime by Human Rights Watch, even though the Geneva Convention recognizes attacks on all kinds of religious communities as war crimes. This is quite a discriminatory approach by Human Rights Watch. For me, it is the position of a political institution, not a human rights institution. One of the biggest damages of this position is that by demonstrating a biased approach, Human Rights Watch and other similar organizations lost their credibility and left Azerbaijanis alone in their struggle for human rights and democracy.

It was quite disappointing because when organizations like Human Rights Watch use the vocabulary of separatists, it sounds like a justification of the ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis. Moreover, during the 27 years of occupation, over 60 of the Azerbaijani mosques were destroyed by Armenians as well as many of them were used as pigsties. None of these distractions have been called a war crime or condemned by organizations like Human Rights Watch. Their answer to that was that they only cover war crimes related to the 44-days-long war. And even if this is the main reason, during the 44-days-long war Armenia launched missile attacks on the city of Ganja also damaged an Azerbaijani mosque. I am sure Human Rights Watch had information about that since its representatives visited Ganja and investigated the missile attacks. However, the attack on the Azerbaijani mosque was not called a war crime by Human Rights Watch, even though Geneva Conventions recognize attacks on all kinds of religious communities as war crimes. This is quite a discriminatory approach by Human Rights Watch. For me, it is the position of a political institution, not a human rights institution. One of the biggest damages of this position is that by demonstrating a biased approach, Human Rights Watch and other similar organizations lost their credibility and left Azerbaijanis alone in their struggle for human rights and democracy. 

Do you think the west is generally biased against Azerbaijan?

We could observe this partial position during the 44-days-long war. I would give a couple of examples from the United States. For instance, California Mayor Eric Garcetti and Congressman Adam Schiff issued statements during the war stating that they “stand with Armenia.” And my question was why? The United Nations had four resolutions recognizing the Armenian occupation of the Azerbaijani territories and demanding immediate withdrawal of the Armenian troops. 28 years of negotiations were supported by Azerbaijanis but had no result while over 700,000 

Azerbaijanis were internally displaced, and many of them lived under very hard circumstances. After 28 years, Azerbaijan tried to liberate its occupied territories, and California Mayor and Congressman Adam Schiff say they stand with Armenia. Why? Do California Mayor and Congressman Adam Schiff mean they support occupation?! I understand they are worried because of their huge Armenian constituency. However, they forget about other members of their constituency. If my congressman would have a statement supporting an occupant, I would give a second thought to his legitimacy. We have seen similar positions from other politicians in the United States and Europe. Specifically, France demonstrated a biased position which again has a huge Armenian diaspora. 

How can we change the west’s opinion of Azerbaijan so that western powers will not negatively influence the process of normalization in the Karabakh, and so that the west will stop funding Armenian nationalism, inadvertently though some of that may be?

First of all, the West should understand that by supporting the Armenian aggression, they extend the peace process and do not help Armenians and Azerbaijanis to solve this issue. If we look at the result of the 44-days-long war, it is more or less the same scenario that was offered by the Minsk Group of OSCE (Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe). If that scenario was implemented, the conflict could have been resolved peacefully. I believe if the U.S., France, and Russia, which are OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, demanded from Armenia to accept one of those scenarios, Armenia would not have had any other choice. Armenia is a smaller country than Azerbaijan and with no support, they would have understood the risk. However, the U.S., France, and Russia helped create a status quo and supported Armenia which encouraged the latter to neglect a peaceful resolution. The result was quite a bloodshed, and thousands of people died from both sides. This was unnecessary and could have been avoided. 

The Karabakh conflict has not yet been solved, and there are only two countries that can solve it – Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenians should understand that they have to stop acting at the command of their diaspora which rules them from California, Paris, and Moscow. It must be easy to sit in a cozy house on the beach in Los Angeles and tell young and poor Armenian men to go to war and die. If Armenians could stop their diaspora from harming them, we could build permanent peace. I understand that Armenians also see their diaspora as a source of material support. However, if we build peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and both Azerbaijan and Turkey open their borders with Armenia, they will not need the support of the diaspora since it would boom Armenia’s economy. Therefore, permanent peace in the South Caucasus depends on Armenia and Azerbaijan, not the United States, Russia, or France. If the two could solve this issue properly, then neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan will need to spend their resources on the “Western attention.”