Analysis - Sunday, April 1, 2012 0:03 - 2 Comments

Armenian image in history textbooks of Azerbaijan


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In their January meeting of 2012, presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia expressed their willingness to develop humanitarian contacts between the parties as part of confidence-building measures. At the Sochi meeting, the presidents issued a joint statement, saying that intellectuals and journalists needed to start a dialogue to try to bring their nations closer together. They stated their readiness for establishment of discussion meetings between opinion leaders, intelligentsia and representatives of public circles.

The present paper poses the following question: To what extent is Azerbaijani society ready to engage in confidence building?  Raising this question is of crucial importance because political resolution of the conflict is accompanied by societal support for it.  I answer it by conducting a content analysis of two history textbooks designed for 10th (Valiyev 2000) and 11th (Mammadov, Gandilov 2000) grades in Azerbaijani high schools.  Both textbooks were approved by the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan in 2000.  These books are currently used in all high schools of Azerbaijan and are compulsory part of high school curriculum.  Armenia and Armenians are mostly described in these two books and they shape the attitudes of the young generation regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenians.

Societal beliefs are shared by members of a society on topics and issues that are of special concern for the society; goals, myths, collective memory, self-image, views of others, and so on[i]. Factors such as emotions, historical memories, and myths can exacerbate the violent implications of intra-group interactions. Ethnic conflict is not caused directly by inter-group differences, ancient hatreds and century’s old feuds, or the stresses of modern life within global economy[ii].  However, these factors are used to support the conflict. Political memories and emotions also magnify these anxieties, driving groups further together[iii].  Memories and myths lead sides to have doubts about others and shape violent attitude towards them.

Schoolchildren in Azerbaijan have no personal memories of conflict between their two countries but history textbooks help to maintain an image of the other country as the enemy and, thus prevent a long-term resolution of their problems.  Textbooks influence the formation of collective memory and image of others. They are perceived by students as the first or only source to understand values of their society.

Council of Europe’s Recommendation, Rec(2001)15. of the Committee of Ministers to member states on history teaching in twenty-first-century Europe says “history teaching must not be an instrument of ideological manipulation, of propaganda or used for the promotion of intolerant and ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic, racist or anti-Semitic ideas.  Historical research and history as it is taught in schools cannot in any way, with any intention, be compatible with the fundamental values and statutes of the Council of Europe if it allows or promotes misuses of history, namely through  an excessively nationalistic version of the past which may create the “us” and “them” dichotomy[iv]”.

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 1416 (2005) called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to foster reconciliation and to restore confidence and mutual understanding among their peoples through schools, universities and the media, stating without such reconciliation, hatred and mistrust will prevent stability in the region and may lead to new violence[v].

History classes are compulsory in all schools of Azerbaijan and there are no alternative texts allowed in history classes. The Education Ministry approved the history textbooks in 2000. According to the criteria for evaluation of textbooks accepted by the ministry, textbook materials must be sensitive to issues of gender, race, ethnicity and religion.  Ministry’s textbooks policy requires the material follow secularity principles; avoid information against the constitution of the country, and international treaties that Azerbaijan accepted. The policy also bans including discriminatory information on ethnicity, religion, race, gender, and politics.

However, Armenians are mostly discussed in history textbooks designed for 10th and 11th grades. Armenians are described in nine chapters in both books. Expressions that describe Armenians, such as Armenian terrorist, Armenian fascist, Armenian bandit, Armenian separatist, Armenian barbarism, enemy and adjectives such as nasty Armenian and fascist Armenian are widely used in those textbooks.

Headlines of three of texts include the word Armenian. All texts are in negative tone towards Armenians. Armenians were named enemies ten times, bandits eleven times, nasty twice, criminals five times, separatists three times, terrorists twice, ands fascists once. In general, thirty three discriminative and derogatory words are used in both 10th and 11th history textbooks to address of Armenians.

Text 44, “Initial stage of Karabakh war, intensification of political crisis”, picture Armenians as fascists and their involvement in war as barbarity. “Armenian fascists occupied Khojaly and committed bloody crime. Armenian fascists put 14 Azerbaijanis into fire in Gugark village in Armenia. To prevent barbarity of Armenians in Karabakh, Supreme Council of Azerbaijan Republic admitted legislation on self-defense in 1991. Loyal attitude of leading states to de-facto Karabakh Republic, enticed Armenian separatists even more.” In the text, Armenians are described with phrases such as enemy, separatist and invader.

Much of the course is devoted to describing Armenia and Armenians as main enemies of Azerbaijanis. Armenians are not only associated with Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but also with genocide towards Azerbaijanis in 1918, aggression of tsarism in Azerbaijan, deportation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia to Azerbaijan by Soviet authority. Alongside, the course pictures Armenians as a continuous trouble for Azerbaijan for almost a century.

In some texts, Armenians are described as the main executors of violent actions of tsarism in Baku in early 20th century. Text 45, “Mass destruction policy of tsarism in Azerbaijan”, in the textbook designed for 10th graders[vi], Armenians are described as terrorists. “Nasty Dashnaksutun party was the main executor of tsarism. In 1905-1905s Armenian bandits and terrorists committed 500 criminal cases against Muslims. Sly and treacherous Armenians signed peace contract in one province, while killed people in others.  Armenians, our eternal enemies, got help from Ottoman and Russian Armenians.”

Text 2, “1918 March genocide of Azerbaijanis”, in the textbook designed for 11th graders describes how Armenians killed thousands of Azerbaijanis in Baku and in other districts. “The union of Dashnags and Bolsheviks attacked Kerpijkhana and Mammadli disticts of Baku, populated with Azerbaijanis. Armenians could involve seamen in killing. Although Muslims stooped opposing, Armenians continued to kill civilians. Dashnag Bolshevik Union burned Kaspi printing house, editorial office of Achig soz newspaper, and mared minarets of Teze Pir mosque. They killed people outside Baku, in Shamakhi, Kurdemir, Salyan and Lenkeran”.

However, the text mentions that it was not only Armenians, but Bolsheviks were involved in killing of Azerbaijanis as well. Thus, the text mentions that March genocide was committed by Bolshevik-Dasnhag union, nevertheless naming only Armenians “bandits.” Text 3 in a textbook designed for 11th grades, “Establishment of Bolshevik-Dashnag regime and its anti-Azerbaijani policy”, states that Bolshevik-Dahsnag union banned all newspapers and magazine, except their own, after 1918 March events.

The course continues with depicting Armenians as trouble-makers even in Soviet time.

Text 32, Next deportation of Azerbaijanis from Western Azerbaijan (Armenian SSR), is about eviction of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia to Azerbaijan in 1940s. It says that “Armenians settled in Nagorno-Karabakh after Turkmenchay treaty, often demanded to unite Karabakh with Armenia. “Armenians were ready to do anything to realize their nasty plans. In 1948-1953, 150, 000 Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their lands. They were settled in Saatly, Imishli, Goychay, Kurdemir and Sabirabad districts of Azerbaijan. Thousands of them, especially children and old one died as a result of severe climate. Their houses in Armenia were given to those Armenians coming from different countries.”

School textbooks play an important role in shaping the beliefs of young generation. Examination of them shows that, education system of Azerbaijan prepares youth for hatred, rather than for tolerance. History education reflects societal beliefs, not facts. Achievement of peaceful resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict might seem to be not realistic with the historical stereotyping shaped by history textbooks.

The involvement of young generation into this process is of pivotal importance.  It is a guarantee to the continuation of peace process and negotiations in the future. Reviewing the textbooks content I can conclude that the society new generation brought up is not ready for peace process. History teaching in Azerbaijani schools focus primarily on promoting hatred to Armenians rather than on peace and peacemaking.

Anti – Armenian propaganda and hate dissemination carried out by history teaching is a serious obstacle to the peace process. While negotiation peace process, the role of history curriculum should be highly considered and recommendations of international organizations, such as aforementioned CEO textbook recommendations should be followed.



Mammadov Ishag, Gafarov Tahir, Mammadov Khagani, Taghiyeva Shovkat, Valiyev Murad, Mammadova Shargiyya, Huseynov Aghasi, Gojayev Akbar.,History of Azerbaijan. 11th grades.  Approved by Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan Republic in 2000.

Valiyev Tofig, Aliyev Rahim, Taghiyeva Shovkat, Gojayev Akbar, Alishova Hejer, Mammadova Kifayet. History of Azerbaijan. 10th grades.  Approved by Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan Republic in 2000.

Lake, David A. Containing Fear. The origins and Management of Ethnic Conflicts.

Staub, Ervin and Bar-Tal, Daniel. Genocide, Mass killing, and Intractable Conflict. Roots, Evolution, Prevention, and Reconciliation.


[i] Staub, Ervin and Bar-Tal, Daniel. Genocide, Mass killing, and Intractable Conflict. Roots, Evolution, Prevention, and Reconciliation.

[ii] Lake, David. Rotchild, Donald.

[iii] Lake, David A. Containing Fear. The origins and Management of Ethnic Conflicts.

[iv] Recommendation Rec(2001)15 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on history teaching in twenty first-century Europe adopted by the Committee of Ministers  on 31October 2001  at the 771st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies.


[vi] Valiyev Tofig, Aliyev Rahim, Taghiyeva Shovkat, Gojayev Akbar, Alishova Hejer, Mammadova Kifayet. History of Azerbaijan. 10th grades.  Approved by Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan Republic in 2000.


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Parvin Taheri
Apr 7, 2012 20:07

Your article creates an impression that it’s different on ‘the other side”. Do we, or you for that matter, have any info on what the Armenian side is teaching its youngsters about Turks (that’s what they call Azerbaijanis)?
Also, what do you, as the author of the article, suggest we should do? As would famous Chapaev say: “Naplevat’ i pozabyt’” ?

Apr 10, 2012 3:31

Dear Shahla, Thank you for this interesting piece.
To respond to Parvin, yes, indeed it is different ‘on the other side.’ I am not saying that our historians write praise about Turks or Azeris. However, although there is a certain dose of selective writing, the history books in Armenia do not resort to such open and targeted slander. I think a little dose of self-criticism would help many in approaching this issue. As for the fact that Armenians often refer to Azeris as Turks – it was not us who generated this discourse. Both your political leaders and those of Turkey have numerous times referred to both countries as – “one nation, two states.”

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