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Nagorno-Karabakh War

A year ago on September 27, as part of Turkey’s imperialist Strategic Depth Doctrine, which aims to build a neo-Ottoman Empire, Azerbaijan with Turkish aid, attacked the indigenous Armenian people of Nagorno Karabakh using cluster bombs, phosphorous munitions, drone warfare, and mercenaries. In 44 days, the onslaught and ensuing war killed more than 5,000 people, including approximately 150 civilians, at least 13 of whom were children. In the end, Azerbaijan seized the region known to Armenians as Artsakh, displacing approximately 130,000 Indigenous people whose ancestry traces to the region for thousands of years.

A new report by the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia suggests egregious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity committed by Azerbaijan, such as physical and psychological torture of POWs and civilian captives. Electroshocked and beaten with metal chains, gun butts and batons, Armenian captives were forced to disclose sensitive information and make false confession, the report said. Among sustained permanent injuries, one man has been rendered blind. The report also noted video and photos of beheaded Armenians during the ceasefire period, which is a war crime whether or not the beheading was the cause of their deaths. As of this writing, approximately 45 Armenians remain in Azerbaijani detention while others are still missing, according to the report.

Electroshocked and beaten with metal chains, gun butts and batons, Armenian captives were forced to disclose sensitive information and make false confession.

Azerbaijan has also continued what some experts call the worst cultural genocide of the 21st century to date. Already, in what has been interpreted as an attempt to erase traces of the region’s indigenous Armenian people, Azerbaijan has destroyed at least 89 medieval churches, 5,840 uniquely Armenian khatchkars (intricately carved cross stones), and 22,000 historical tombstones in a region known as Nakhichevan. Despite UNESCO’s 2000 urgent order to preserve the remaining monuments, Azerbaijan took sledgehammers to much of what had remained, including Armenia’s largest medieval cemetery that featured 10,000 cross-stones. As part of the latest conflict and ceasefire agreement, Azerbaijan has now taken Artsakh’s land and with it, centuries of cultural heritage.

Mass killing, torture, falsification of history, and destruction of antiquities, has long been practiced by Azerbaijan’s strategic war-partner, Turkey, which over the past century, has successfully eradicated Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks from their historic homelands and erased much of their existence there. Destroying ancient culture and artcontinues today in Turkish occupied Cyprus.

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These types of acts—inflicting cruelties, such as torture on other humans and erasing their cultural heritage and existence—usually occur in tandem with mass dissemination of dehumanization, blame and fabricated histories, ancestry, ownership, and belonging, according to political communication studies. In their thirst for more power and land, malignant leaders design these parallel “frame wars” to provoke hate and rage in their own populations, then use those emotions to enlist, motivate, and unleash the wrath of soldiers and civilians onto the targeted people to justify lethality and plunder valuable property.

In this case of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, Azerbaijan is no exception, according to our examination of its state media agency AZERTAC (also Azertag) from the period of 27 September 2020 until July 30, 2021. Like so many extremist leaders before, Azerbaijan’s leadership is using its media to aid in ethnically cleansing people from their indigenous lands, inflicting physical and psychological torture, erasing them from the region entirety, and erasing traces of history itself. Rife with dehumanization and demonization of Armenians on par with the Rwandan Genocide, the Holocaust and the nationalist media in the former Yugoslavia, the Azerbaijan government media portrayed Armenians as animals, savages, barbarians, fascists, criminals, vandals, wild beasts, or Neo-Nazis in more than half of the 60 articles examined. “We have defeated the savages . . . saved the region from savages and fascists,” said Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev in one August AZERTAC report. In another, the city of Fuzuli, he said, “was in the hands of wild beasts, in the hands of predators.”,

Embedded within a “good-versus-evil” framing in which “our side” are the “good” and “they” are the evil who are destroying something sacred, the Azerbaijani state media agency falsely accused Armenians of a range of crimes and international violations while branding itself a “civil nation.” Despite DNA evidence of Armenians’ 7800-year presence in Artsakh, for example, Azerbaijan’s state media falsely accused Armenians of illegal occupation and of fabricating its ancient identity. Armenians “exploited our lands,” said president Aliyev in the state media agency. “There has never been Armenian land here, and there never will be. This is the land of Azerbaijan. We, the Azerbaijanis, the owners of these lands, have returned.”

Similarly, while Azerbaijan has been destroying Armenian cultural heritage sites in an attempt to erase a people, its media has instead accused Armenians of ethnic and cultural erasure, calling it “evidence of Armenian savagery.” In its post-ceasefire efforts to rewrite the history of Artsakh, Azerbaijan’s state media agency falsely claimed that Armenian antiquity, such as the ancient khachkars, were created in a modern workshop and subsequently buried to lay claim for the region. Their monuments, it has labelled, not as Armenian, but “Caucasian Albanian.”

In contrast, Armenian state media has largely refrained from resorting to dehumanizing stereotypes of the Azerbaijani people. It did, however, refer to the Azerbaijani government’s policies as “fascist.” After vandals attacked Kanach Zham in Shushi (St. John the Baptist church), for example, the Armenian media called the actions of the Azerbaijani government “against Armenian cultural heritage” the “continuation and the embodiment of the fascist policy in a disgusting and dangerous manner.” It went on to compare the destruction of historic churches akin to acts of terrorism, noting the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan.

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While the international community has failed to stop the great violence inflicted on the people and culture of Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh, there is still time to repair, redress, and restore the survivors and what remains of their cultural heritage, while preventing the utter destruction of their history. It is imperative to put those wheels of justice in motion immediately to stem the monumental losses, stop them from becoming permanent, and send a signal that human rights still matter.

Maria Armoudian and Olivia Guyodo