On Reporting the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Ruins_of_the_Armenian_part_of_the_city_of_Shusha_after_the_March_1920_pogrom_by_Azerbaijani_armed_units._In_the_center_-_church_of_the_Holy_Savior (1)By Dr. Kamala Imranli-Lowe and Dr. Galina Yemelianova

In early August 2014 the British media reported an escalation in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This has brought the conflict, which has been less covered since the cease-fire of May 1994, back to the media’s attention. This blog is intended to shed some light on the role of the British, and the wider Western, media in shaping particular attitudes among the public, as well as policy-makers involved in the negotiation process over this conflict. It is based on analysis of the main premises of over 4,000 reports and analytical commentaries on the conflict by BBC TV,The GuardianThe Observer, The TimesThe Financial Times, The Independent and The Economist in the period 1988-2014, including during the ‘hot’ stage of the conflict from 1988 to 1994. It focuses on the media’s interpretations of historical causes of the conflict and juxtaposes these interpretations with relevant historical facts.

The analysis of the media has revealed that: (i) the reporting of the conflict began in February 1988 despite the fact that it actually began in November 1987; (ii) it largely relied either on Armenian sources, or lacked reference to any sources; (iii) most published academic commentaries were by Western academics of Armenian origin and were clearly sympathetic to the Armenian case.

Of particular interest is the media confusion over the time of ‘separation’ of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, as well as the particular wording in describing the background of the conflict, which significantly distorted the historical facts and contributed to the shaping of particular attitudes to the conflict parties among the British public and policy-makers. Here are just a few examples of such problematic and inconsistent premises:


·    Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to Armenia before the 1917 Revolution.

·    Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Armenia from the first century AD to 1923.

·  Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Greater Armenia but in 1921 it was attached to Muslim Azerbaijan by Stalin.

·    After the declaration of Soviet power in Armenia, Azerbaijan decreed that Nagorno-Karabakh should be part of Armenia, but this decision was reversed by Stalin on 5 July 1921.

·    Nagorno-Karabakh has been ruled from Baku since 1922 or 1923, when Lenin transferred it to Muslim Azerbaijan.


So, it transpires that according to some reports the ‘separation’ of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia occurred in 1917, while according to others it was in 1920, 1921, 1922 or even 1923. The common premise, however, is the linkage of the ‘separation’ to Soviet national delimitation and Stalin’s personal involvement, in particular. It is worth comparing this to the editorial in 1919 by a British journalist, Scotland Liddell, editor of The Georgian Mail newspaper published in Tiflis, in which he comments on the question of the British, rather than the Bolsheviks, being accused of causing this ‘separation’. In reply to the allegation of the Armenian nationalists that ‘The British Command has lately obstinately endeavoured to annul the whole Armenian question, having forcibly separated from Armenia Karabagh and Zangezour…’, Liddell wrote: ‘The British never “forcibly” removed Karabagh from Armenia: it was separated geographically as it was…’

Similarly, the widely publicised interpretation of the events on 5 July 1921 as the day of ‘Stalin’s decision to separate (our italics) Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia’ or ‘Stalin’s decision to transfer(our italics) Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan’ does not pass the test of historical evidence. Thus, the protocol of the session of the plenum of Kavburo (Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist [Bolshevik] Party), which was convened on that day, states:

Taking into account the necessity of national peace between the Muslims and the Armenians, the economic relations between Upper and Lower Karabakh and its permanent relations with Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh shall be retained (our italics) within the Azerbaijan SSR and broad autonomy shall be given to Nagorno-Karabakh with Shusha city as an administrative centre.


The use of the word ‘retain,’ rather than ‘include’ and reference to the region’s ‘permanent relations with Azerbaijan’ suggest that Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan, and before  the annexation by Russia of the Karabakh Khanate on 14 May 1805, this area of the region was part of the khanate. The latter was ruled and predominantly inhabited by Turkic-speaking Muslims, ancestors of present-day Azerbaijanis.  Among the media’s distorted wording was the repeated use of the terms ‘re-unification’ and  ‘return’ of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia as well as the use of the term ‘enclave’ in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, which geographically and historically had been part of the territory of contemporary Azerbaijan.

The linking of ‘separation’ to 1923 is also factually inaccurate. What in fact happened then was the decision on 7 July 1923 by the Azerbaijani Central Executive Committee to form  the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast  with its centre in Khankandi and the decision  on 18 September 1923 by the Karabakh Oblast Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist [Bolshevik] Party to change the name of Nagorno-Karabakh’s centre from the Azerbaijani name ‘Khankandi’ into the Armenian name ‘Stepanakert’, in honour of Stepan Shaumian,  a Bolshevik of Armenian origin, who played a central role in the Bolshevisation of the Caucasus.

The above analysis highlights the issue of the reliability of the sources used by the media reporting on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (as well as possibly other ethno-territorial conflicts worldwide), and the ongoing political and public implications for the understanding of the true nature of the conflict and its settlement.



A joint meeting of the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia was held in Sochi

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According to the AzerTac, on the 10th august a joint meeting of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has been held at the Bocharov Ruchey residence in Sochi.

Saluting the Azerbaijani and Armenian heads of state, President Vladimir Putin said:

– Dear Ilham Heydarovich,
– Dear Serzh Azatovich,
I once again thank you for the opportunity to meet in Russia. Yesterday we discussed the bilateral relations both with the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. We also communicated informally. And, thank God, we did not touch upon business-related issues yesterday. However, we had an opportunity to speak to each other on various topics. I believe this creates a certain atmosphere for a sincere discussion of complex issues related to the regional settlement.
Naturally, there are international formats for resolving these problems, the Karabakh problem. And we certainly respect all these international formats and will continue working with our colleagues.
But we have particularly close relations and deep history, which allows us the opportunity to sincerely exchange views over what we have and what has to be done so that we can move forward in the settlement of all these problems, which is a legacy of the past. Anyway, I think it is useful. I am pleased to have an opportunity to meet and talk with you about all these issues.


President Ilham Aliyev said:

– Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Thank you for your attitude towards this issue. As we discussed yesterday, this issue needs to be resolved. It has gone too far. I hope that your involvement in this process will give a new impetus to the negotiations. As you mentioned, there is a format of negotiations, there is also a legal base for the settlement of the conflict. The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions demanding an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian occupation forces from Azerbaijani lands. Unfortunately, although more than 20 years have passed, these resolutions remain on paper.
The Minsk Group, in the person of its co-chairs, is working. They are trying to bring about a rapprochement between the parties, but they have not done well. So I think that as our close friend, partner and neighbor, Russia has a special role to play in the settlement process. We hope that soon, by means of negotiations, by peaceful means, we will find a solution that will comply with international law and justice.


Russian President Vladimir Putin said:

– I note with pleasure that the Azerbaijani President too underlined the necessity for resolving the conflict by peaceful means. This is actually the main thing because there can be no greater tragedy than the death of people. We should not forget that this conflict situation emerged long ago. It is a legacy of the past, and we can and should say that it is a legacy of the Soviet Union. We should display patience, wisdom and respect for each other to find a solution. No doubt, any complex situations can be resolved if there is good will. And I think that such good will exists both on the part of the Azerbaijani people and the Armenian people. So let us discuss the issue with you now, and then talk things over with our colleagues.



The Azerbaijani citizen taken hostage by the Armenian Armed Forces was killed

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The State Committee for Work with Refugees and IDPs has issued a statement regarding the Azerbaijanis taken hostages by Armenians in Kalbajar.

The Committee’s press service told APA that a series of meetings were held with head of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) representation in Azerbaijan regarding the Azerbaijani hostages. The Azerbaijani side expressed its concern at these meetings over the lack of information about the hostages up to now.

“At these meetings, ICRC was told to intensify its measures to get information about the hostages.

Consequently, ICRC has managed to obtain several photos, one of which belongs to Hasan Hasanov, who was allegedly killed by Armenians. These photos were shown to his relatives and they confirmed Hasan Hasanov. ICRC has already started talks to return Hasanov’s corpse. However, they were told that there is a need for additional clarifying materials to identify the corpse,” the Committee said.

The State Committee says that the organization of the meeting with Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev taken hostages by the Armenian Armed Forces and necessary measures underway to return Hasan Hasanov’s corpse are under the control of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.