Analyses – Western Media’s approach to Nagorno- Karabakh rife with bias and prejudice
Assoc. Prof. Yusuf Ozkir
The writer is Lecturer at the Istanbul Medipol University’s Faculty of Communication. He is also the publication coordinator of the Kriter political and social journal.
The status quo in the Caucasus has been shaken with Azerbaijan recapturing parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been under Armenian occupation for nearly 30 years. As the famous phrase goes: the genie is out of the bottle now. In the words of Azeri journalist Ceyhun Asirov, one of the prominent names when it comes to providing essential information to the Turkish and world media about the region, the much-propagated Armenian rhetoric on Azerbaijan as a “defeated nation” in the Caucasus has been “relegated to the trash bin of history”. Azerbaijani Turks have now confirmed their position as a “victorious nation” with their advance in Nagorno-Karabakh. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, recently saying “Where on earth is the Armenian army? They could not withstand us; they are fleeing!” in reference to the advance of the Azerbaijani army, once again announced to the world that Armenia, whose image has long been inflated unjustifiably by the global media, has actually proved a paper tiger. The statements coming out of Armenia, on the other hand, are trying to present all these losses and defeats as a “withdrawal”. However, the picture before us is very clear and shows that the real situation is very different, with the Armenians decisively defeated on every front where a clash took place.
Having been defeated in the actual battleground, the Armenian army resorts to certain other methods, one of which is to perpetrate civilian massacres. Armenia, which committed civilian massacres in the early 1990s, especially in the Khojaly region, is now carrying out missile attacks on the city of Ganja in Azerbaijan to cover up its defeats at the front. Dozens of civilians have died in these attacks so far, with also dozens of houses reduced to mere rubble.
Attacks on areas outside the conflict zone constitute war crimes according to international conventions. But despite committing crimes of this nature before, the Armenian state does not shy away from committing the likes of them again and again, confident that it will face no sanctions whatsoever. Considering the silence of global organizations to be an implicit green light, Armenia is highly likely to continue its attacks on civilian settlements. The international community should not have remained silent in the face of these attacks, be it only for saving the dignity of its principles and institutions.
Western media playing “the three monkeys”
The response of the major international media organizations to the Ganja attack, and to all other civilian massacres that have taken place so far, has been very problematic since the very beginning of this conflict. Where global organizations and political power centers have adopted a strongly biased attitude, it is not rational to expect neutrality from the media, which is merely a useful tool in the hands of the very same organizations and political power centers; yet what still manages to strike us as very troubling is how these media organizations, which are so keen on delivering universal sermons on journalistic principles, can be so biased when it comes to reporting on the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. One can, very surprisingly, see the phrase “Turkish aggression” interspersed throughout the news reports and opinion pieces.
In this regard, the general broadcasting policy of the major news agencies of the world, such as Russia’s Sputnik, France’s Agence France Presse (AFP) and France 24, the UK’s BBC and Reuters and the US’s Associated Press (AP), is very problematic in that they have been disseminating utterly biased content. In the aftermath of the Ganja attack, news media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the CNN did not run a single sentence on the attack. The AP, on the other hand, first reported that the Armenian Defense Ministry was denying the attack; afterwards, it merely highlighted the statement of the perpetrator of the massacre in the lead of the report that it ran: “Azerbaijan accused Armenia of striking its second-largest city” with a ballistic missile. There is also a concerted effort to put Armenian theses into circulation in the majority of broadcasts by extending the microphone to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In addition, the Iranian state television Press TV has also been part of this scheme. Press TV, through its broadcasts, has very clearly embarked on a smear campaign against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, interspersing its hostile discourse with such words as “sultan” and “empire”, which are indicative of an emerging neo-Orientalist approach. In its coverage, it is generally defending the Armenian theses. We find such pro-Armenian content in some of Al-Jazeera’s coverage as well. As for the media outlets funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, all they do, unsurprisingly, is trumpet the Armenian theses.
Major media outlets continue to play the three monkeys — “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” — although they do know the truth of the matter. We can summarize this biased attitude and feigning ignorance in seven bullet points.
Seven sins of Western media
First, the Armenian occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been repeatedly defined by the United Nations (UN) as Azerbaijani soil, is not emphasized in clear terms. Although Armenia’s presence there has been defined by the UN as an “occupation”, they do not (presumably not to upset Armenia) lay the due emphasis on the question of why Armenia has not peacefully evacuated the region in question for all these years, leaving it to its rightful owners. In TV coverage and internet publications, the phrases “disputed region” or “contested region” are very often used to refer to Nagorno-Karabakh, and any objective truth, if it is mentioned at all, is presented with a disclaimer: “according to the claims of Azerbaijan”.
Second, the dozens of civilians who lost their lives in Armenia’s ballistic missile attack on Ganja were not reported on in a timely manner, and when the said media outlets did broadcast and/or publish the story, the accompanying visuals and/or video footage were remarkably insufficient and, as a result, did not convey the true magnitude of the massacre. There is a very visible tendency to meticulously avoid mentioning the word “massacre” side by side with Armenia. However, civilian massacres have been carried out, and both this eerie international silence and statements coming from Armenian are engendering an air of pessimism, making us conclude that more of these massacres are to be expected.
Third, in the news coverage of the attacks, the civilian deaths were presented as “Azerbaijan’s accusation and claim”, although the situation on the ground was clear as day. In the face of such civilian massacres, the use of a language that seeks to favor the discourse of one of the two warring parties over that of the other and also the use of such words as “allegation”, “accusation”, and “claim” strongly smack of an organized attitude, the implicit message being, “O reader! You don’t have to believe this; this is merely the claim of one of the warring parties and it is churning out these dubious claims to malign its enemy”.
Fourth, although the Armenian state transported foreign terrorists from various regions to Nagorno-Karabakh (mainly from Latin America, Syria and Lebanon), Western media did not cover this properly, either, despite the existence of ample material (audio recordings and footage), demonstrating that terrorist groups, including the terrorist PKK, were transported to the region via Iran. On the contrary, they just echo the Armenian propaganda that it is Azerbaijan which has transported foreign fighters to the region, although this is an all-out lie.
Fifth, journalists affiliated with the international media have largely chosen to travel to the Armenian side to follow the conflict, and they continue to do so. What should have been the case, however, was to follow the conflict in the region from both sides. Reporting from only one side naturally brings along prejudice. News stories written with this one-sided approach visibly carry concomitant characteristics resulting from one-sidedness.
Sixth, news articles written by journalists from Armenia or close to the Armenian diaspora in the global media are marred by ideological bias as well. One such story was written by Isabelle Khurshudyan in The Washington Post (Khurshudyan being one of the three contributors) , in which they claim, right in the headline, that Turkey is responsible for the sending, and subsequent deaths, of Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh. Similarly, the fact that the editor-in-chief of Sputnik and Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, is of Armenian origin is more at play in the use of biased language in these media than Russia’s state policy.
While Sputnik employs a more balanced language in its Turkish edition, Simonyan’s influence is more prominent in Sputnik’s English edition. They discuss Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to the claim that foreign terrorists are brought to Nagorno-Karabakh in a context in which it is also claimed that Azerbaijan brought these terrorists from Syria and Libya, which is simply not true. They, however, did not say a word on the foreign terrorists brought to the region by Armenia (mainly PKK terrorists) from various regions, whereas Armenia remains the only party that has brought foreign terrorists into the conflict. What is also very curious is that an image of a church is constantly used in the social media posts of Sputnik’s English edition about the conflict. Although it has nothing to do with the subject matter, the image of the church is used in any news story on the conflict. Another interesting detail is that after it is said that the US, France and Russia, which, together, constitute the Minsk Group, call for peaceful negotiations to resolve the Karabakh issue, it is invariably claimed that Turkey continuously incites Azerbaijan to aggression and is also supporting Azerbaijan to that end. This can be safely interpreted as an approach aimed at marginalizing Turkey.
Seventh, Western media, which has long been consumed with opposition against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reinvigorated this anti-Erdogan stance by this opportunity, spreading more and more stories against him. The analyses and opinion pieces published by Western media about Azerbaijan’s process of reclaiming its occupied territories are rife with the traces of this opposition. So much so that, they are attempting to build the whole narrative around Erdogan rather than Ilham Aliyev.
All in all, highly influential media organizations with a global reach condemning themselves to such biased approaches is a source of great disappointment in terms of the basic journalistic standards. This mechanism of generating lies and biases, which Turkey knows all too well from its experiences in the last 200 years and has, understandably, become inured to, has been set in motion again to drown out Azerbaijan’s voice and to cause its right cause to go unheard and unheeded again. Yet, we have to note, this time it is not proving as effective as it once was.