Analysis - Thursday, July 1, 2010 0:09 - 12 Comments

Warmongering as State Propaganda and its Effect on the Eventual Resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict


Both Azerbaijani and Armenian societies are under heavy state propaganda regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have created the image of the “other” as an external enemy that has existed in their memorable past and will exist forever. The histories of both nations are rewritten and presented as a never-ending struggle between them. Both parties obviously understand the importance of myths in nation-building that is a crucial part of the post-Soviet transition. School textbooks, TV and radio shows, newspaper and Internet articles in both Armenia and Azerbaijan not only glorify the “unprecedented historical achievements” of their nations but also (un)consciously participate in the fierce state propaganda in portraying the “other” as an irreconcilable enemy. The result is the total lack of trust between two nations.

From a realist perspective, these steps are important not only in the nation-building process but also in being prepared for another enemy attack. The new generation born after the 1994 cease-fire is reaching the compulsory military service age and should be cultivated as “patriots.” Having a different opinion of the enemy — even a relatively mild one — is ultimate betrayal.

However, on the other hand, this time from the constructivist point of view, it is interesting to see how the image of the “other” is being (re)constructed. Ironically, both Armenians and Azeris used to live together in peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and still do so in other regions of the post-Soviet Union, including Georgia and different parts of Russia. In fact, the inter-marriage levels among Azeris and Armenians were higher than among, say, Georgians and Armenians (both Christian and with other cultural similarities). But now, both sides are described as eternal enemies and the stories of friendship and tolerance are consciously buried.

What impact will this phenomenon have on the eventual resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? The answer to this question will depend on how this conflict is resolved. If it is resolved militarily, then without a doubt this propaganda will serve both states in their recruitment efforts for a new war. The younger generation will be sent to their death (or “martyrdom”) more easily. The irreconcilable approach toward the enemy will be easily justified and those who advocated a milder approach will be easily condemned for their “naiveté and foolishness.” But if the conflict is resolved peacefully, then the implementation of this resolution will be under question. How will the state leaders who, thanks to their propaganda machines used to slam the “enemy” in every suitable occasion, sell the new peace offer to their respective publics? How can an eternal enemy become a friend overnight? How easy will it be for radio and TV shows, newspaper and internet articles to change their rhetoric? How long will it take to review our history books and stop portraying each other as eternal enemies? Obviously, this will not be easy.

As for now, the step-by-step resolution of the conflict is an apparent way out in which both conflicting parties will take different steps one by one to resolve the conflict. But before this happens, both parties should ensure that any step taken by the opposite side should not be considered as a victory of one’s own and the defeat of the “enemy.” Then this vicious circle will prevent any further steps from either side. Both publics should be prepared to understand that the peaceful resolution of the conflict (and as quickly as possible) is in the interest of everybody. That is why a conciliatory step taken by one should be seen as a trust-building measure, which will in turn facilitate the next step.

For example, Armenians could withdraw from five regions (out of seven) surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region. This could then be received by the Azerbaijani public as goodwill from the Armenian side and not as a victory for Azerbaijani diplomacy and thus the defeat of Armenians. The Armenians could do this not because “they finally understood that they do not have any other choice” but rather because they trust the Azerbaijanis and believe in their intention for the peaceful resolution of the conflict and expect them to act accordingly. The next step then would be opening the borders and all communications between the two republics and between Turkey and Armenia. This might in return lead to the Armenians releasing control of the other remaining regions (Lachin and Kelbajar) surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh without fearing to lose the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Thus, the process will become a virtuous circle.

Now, let’s ask ourselves how many people would see the first step taken by either side in this way? Not many. Under the current defamation company and warmongering, any goodwill will be seen and presented as the victory for one side and defeat for the other side. Thus, to avoid this both Armenia and Azerbaijan should stop their propaganda machines and start looking further down the road when both sides will have to make some painful concessions. Any leader who wants to avoid being portrayed as a betrayer of the “national cause” needs to take small but important actions to prepare their society for the eventual peaceful co-existence of two nations.


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Gayane Makhmourian
Jul 10, 2010 1:22

Mr.H.Gafarov, please be advised, that the nation-building of your neighbors is fait accomli long ago, and our myths are written 1500 years prior to ourdays. That’s why we appreciate truth, when speak to ourselves and the society. It has its value, too.
And what you propose FOR US, what can you GIVE, besides the things, we have already got ourselves after you attack and a lot of ugly actions?
G.Makhmourian, Institute of History, Armenian Academy of Sciences

Jul 10, 2010 14:39

Dear Gayane Makhmourian (Doctor Makhmourian I presume?),

as I understood Mr. Gafarov’s argument was the war rhetoric, as well as negative and manipulative interpretations of each other’s actions. This then leads to a situation where the sides are not able to make any compromises and steps toward the resolution of the conflict, as instead of being interpreted as positive steps, any compromises are interpreted as defeatist moves. Consequently the conflict will remain frozen and there will be no progress made in the peace process until this pattern of behavior prevails.

What I can’t understand is what is the relevance of your comment to the argument of the author. I read the first part of your comment the following way: ‘we, Armenians, are ancient, therefore we are right. You, Azeris, are not ancient, therefore you are wrong.’ And the second part of the comment states that Armenians are happy with the status quo of the conflict. Please correct me if I am reading you wrong.

I am aware that your line of reasoning is a commonplace among Armenians, and that every time we see an Azeri many of us feel an urge to mention ‘we are ancient you are not’, whether or not it is relevant to the topic of the conversation. But I sure hope that we can find a way to take the conversation to the next level. Whether we agree or disagree with the conclusions of the author, I think this is an interesting argument and worth a discussion. And I hope that the representatives of our Academy of Sciences have thoughts to contribute to the conversation other than repeating same old cliches that are keeping us in this mess.

Sincerely yours,


Jul 12, 2010 15:27

One should not overlook the simple fact that according to some statistics, there are at least 20 and by some estimates even 30,000 Armenians who currently live in Azerbaijan and are full-fledged citizens of this country, which is not and can not be the case for Armenia. There are only 2 or 3 Azeris who are presently in the territory of Armenia or the Azeri territories under occupation (although this number may sometimes go up to 4, when an Azeri delegate attends a conference in Yerevan). We have Azeri government officials whose wifes are Armenian (I know several such officials), not to mention others I have come accross as recently as a few months ago. This fact alone goes to show which nation has gone further in demonizing the other, what the prospects of any reconciliation efforts are and which country should these efforts be focused on.


Hashim Gafarov
Jul 12, 2010 15:36

Dear Ms. Makhmourian,

Thanks for your comments and taking time to read the article. I was surprised that you identified the date of myths only 1500 prior to nowadays (which comes to 510 A.C.). Usually historians from Academy of Sciences from post-Soviet area like to stretch it to 4000-5000 BC.
My main argument is that we are victims of our own myths. Myth means that they are legends that most probably never took place. But even if they did, as most “scholars” in those Academy of Sciences believe, they are not relevant anymore. We should understand that the status quo is not and can not be sustainable and we need to get out of this situation. And it will be really helpful, if we stop going around in vicious circle and for this we need to stop perpetuating the negative myths (there are good ones too) about each other. One efficient way of doing this would probably be shutting down all Academies of Sciences in all post-Soviet countries as no true academic benefit is coming out of them anyway other than being a crucial component of the propaganda machine.


Jul 13, 2010 0:21

Dear Rashad,
first, for the fairness sake as I asked this to Ms. Makhmourian, what is the relevance of your comment with either Mr. Gafarov’s post, or with Ms. Makhmourian’s comment? But as at this point I seem to be the only one who thinks that the comments have to be relevant to the conversation, I will drop my case. Especially because I find it interesting to discuss the point you bring up.

Rashad, I certainly do not want to defend the Armenian side and the ethnic cleansing commited by that side. But what you say contradicts not only what I know about a similar ethnic cleansing committed by Azerbaijan, but it also contradicts my own experience, so I would like to have more information. Few years ago a very close person to me wanted to visit Baku. He is a native of Canada, only partially of Armenian decent, a businessman, and had never anything to do with the war. He had friends in Baku in some high positions. So he asked them to inquire if he could get a visa to Azerbaijan. The answer was a non uncertain no. That despite the Canadian citizenship, because he had ‘ian’ in the end of the last name, this could not even be a consideration. They told him, that even if they managed to get him a visa, no one could guarangtee his safety or safety of any Armenian for that matter in Azerbaijan, for ‘understandible reasons.’

This personal experience contradicts your suggestion that Armenians can freely live in Azerbaijan. I hope, very much hope! that my experience was wrong, and that you are right. So I am not trying to prove you wrong. But just inquiring to share your sources from where you get information about Armenians safely living in Azerbaijan. And also suggest whether our frinds in Baku were mistaken and Armenians can actually visit Azerbaijan.

Thanks much for your time


Marine Ejuryan
Jul 13, 2010 3:20

Dear Hashim Gafarov,

Thank you for your article. I completely agree that if we want to have ultimate peace, first of all we need to have trust towards each other. And this trust is a necessity not only for ensuring that compromises from one side are not interpreted as defeatist moves but, in my opinion, there is something even more important:

People in both societies should RE-learn to live next to each other. Yes, you are right, they used to live in peace and still live in other countries, but after the war and all the war rhetoric and propaganda Armenians and Azerbaijanis in our countries are not still ready to co-exist in peace, I think.

As you’ve mentioned in your article, conciliatory steps from both sides and stop of war rhetoric would be a very important and necessary measure towards trust-building. But I am not very optimistic about it as long as the governments in our countries get benefit from the current stalemate situation. In this case I believe civil society and individuals have an important role to play on the way of trust building.

Jul 13, 2010 7:45

An interesting debate is going on under this post which reveals some stereotypes that the conflicting sides have. And it is really interesting that even educated and advanced representatives of both nations bear and spread those stereotypes. What I’ve noticed in the comments of both Mrs. Gayane Makhmourian and the author – Hashim Gafarov, is questioning the legitimacy of existence of respectively Azerbaijanis and Armenians…

In the first comment, when Mrs. Makhmouryan says that Armenians are an older nation that Azerbaijanis, in this particular context and in the way it is being said it implies that ‘we are older than you, so don’t tell us what to do’ (I agree with George here).

In his response, Mr. Gafarov is actually mocking and questioning Mrs. Makhmourian’s claim that Armenians are an old nation adding with irony something similar to ‘ah, good you didn’t say that you’ve been existing since 4000-5000 BC’ …

So what I want to say is that even if educated and intellectual people like Mrs. Makhmouryan and Mr. Gafarov can’t avoid stereotypical thinking, why would you expect ordinary people to do so?!

To me the only person who makes sense here is George. Thank you.

Hashim Gafarov
Jul 13, 2010 13:08

Dear Mariam,

Thanks for your comment. I think you misinterpreted my comment. What I said is “Usually historians from Academy of Sciences from post-Soviet area like to stretch it to 4000-5000 BC” which obviously include both Azerbaijanis and Armenians. I did not say it is only Armenians who do that. It is enough to glimpse at the history books of any post-Soviet nation to see this obvious (and mostly unfortunate) fact.


Jul 14, 2010 11:08

Dear George,

I actually don’t see how my comment side-tracks the discussion, when my point was to show how far the two countries have gone in demonizing each other. I don’t think it would be prudent to even try to start explaining the background of the events in Armenia and Azerbaijan in the period right after the Azeri population of Armenia was forced to flee their homes and cross kilometers of mountaneous areas into Azerbaijan. As much as I don’t want to go into this, I just want to mention one thing, which to me is very intuitive, about the so-called ethnic cleansing committed by Azerbaijan. What would you expect of a person, who has just fled a home and a country he has lived in for ages because he was forced to leave on the basis of his/her ethnic origin, had to leave everything behind, some of his relatives had been killed. If such person arrives in any region of Azerbaijan and finds an Armenian family living in peace and prosperity and commits a retaliative act and if such acts are randomly committed in various regions of the country why would we call it ethnic cleansing? The reason I say this is because I have lived in Baku for about 30 years now and the absolute majority of my neigbors were Armenian and even though it is beyond my ability to prove you otherwise, I can only assure you that to the best of my knowledge, none of my neighbors had to leave their homes. Believe it or not, but we bough a house from one such neighbor, and in the midst of all the chaos and conflict escalation, that neighbor took his time to negotiate, re-negotiate, look for other potential sellers and finally managed to sell his house at his own pace, not under duress. In contrast, I personally don’t know of any Azerbaijani family that fled Armenia during this period (because there have been numerous other forced migrations of Azeris from Armenia before this conflict) who was able to sell his/her house or belongings. That is about it.

Going back to the question of Armenians living in Azerbaijan, again, I can’t think of a way to prove it otherwise except by telling you about my personal experience. Between 2005-2009 I worked with a person in the heart of Baku whose mother was an Armenian woman who was still alive, as well as knew of at least 3 such people. There are many such people who have blended in and have not much problems. In fact, incidentally, a recent local newspaper article has revealed a case where a police officer has been involved in numerous cases of providing false IDs to Armenians living in Baku. Additionally, interestingly enough, there are several high-ranking officials who have armenian wifes and I know one such personally but can’t give you any private details.

As for the complications with your friend’s travel to Baku, I can’t give you any definitive explanation, except that I personally have heard of such case, where an employee of an international organization was given a similar story and warned not to travel, did however travel and was allowed to enter the country, albeit some extra questions were asked of her by customs officials. Don’t ask me if it is right to discriminate people on the basis of their last names, but that is what we have been seeing in the U.S. and some other countries following 9/11.

Jul 19, 2010 18:29

without arguing about the definition of ethnic cleansing: hundreds of thousands of Azeis were brutaly uprooted from Armenia, Karabakh and occupied territories, which I agree was a a terrible inhuman ethnic cleansing. And another few hindreds of thousands of Armenians were brutaly uprroted from Azerbaijan, and the accounts of how bad it was are many (and I would not want to go into stories of rapes and murders that we all know). I find it reprehensible when anyone is denying the ethinic cleansing of Azeris by Armenians. And I also find the attempt to justify or minimse the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians by the Azeris, something I see in your comments, just as insulting and reprehensible. You justify the Azeri ethnic cleansisng by saying the Azeris were cleansed first so had right to do the same. Armenians justify Xojali by saying Azeris did Sumgait so Armenians had the right to do the same. In the war each side killed tens of thousands of the others. So each side now has a right to kill another tens of thousands? How far can we go if we follow this logic and stay this inhumane.

And about the Armenian wifes: without going into fact-finding, just based on your own description: these people do not seem to be there because they are Armenian and because it is ok to be Armenian in Azerbaijan, which is what you are trying to prove. According to your own description they are there despite being Armenian, because they were able to hide who they are. You talk only about women and wifes, not men. Wifes in this context mean people who will have to change their last names, whose kids will carry the names of the fathers and will assimilate. Not only in our region, but everywhere where there are ethnic wars, part of the strategy of ethnic cleansing is to get rid of the men, and keep the women, make them change their names with undersanding that the kids already will be of the other ethnicity. So in the big scheme of things, what you are describing is a strategy of assimilation and finishing up the ethnic cleansing, not of tolerance.

At the same time, I do not want to diminish the good intentions of individuals who know they are Armenians among them and still have them in their families, among their friends. This is encouraging, and I appload and thank the Azeris who do that. Perhaps these are the people who can show us the light in the end of our tunnel. As you mentioned, you yourself know Armenians. So then you might be one of them. In that case, happy to meet you and have a chance to exchange few thoughts

Ayk Zakarian
Jul 21, 2010 9:22

Dear Hashim Gafarov,

It’s always great to learn that there are still some people who are unaffected by the state/party nationalist propaganda and still believe in the importance of peaceful neighborly relations and the possibility of one day being able to peacefully co-exist and live side by side.

I do also agree with you that initial and even “baby” steps need to be taken by either side to demonstrate the willingness to compromise, and the willingness to peacefully end this conflict. Unfortunately, as logical and theoretically-viable as your proposals sound, I don’t believe such steps in reality would ever occur. You’ve already mentioned most of the reasons why they probably would never materialize; Governments on both sides are just too entrenched, pre-occupied, and under pressure from their constituencies and disaporas that they would never survive such a bump. The scary part is that such an initial “bump” could really have tremendous and catastrophic consequences, over the peace process as a whole (leaders in both countries have been overthrown as a consequence of the Nagorno-Karabakh war and peace process). A new government that would rise to power due to its nationalistic rhetoric will definitely not shy away from taking bolder steps, and even possibly resorting to military means, thus sending back the peace talks to square one.

The saddest thing however, is the state that the large chunks of the populations of both sides are in. No viable or real solution would ever materialize (even if the governments sign agreements and treaties) if the populations on both sides are in the state they are in today. After all, these are the people that are expected to be living next to each other, once the conflict is settled. And so I truly believe that the efforts of the international community is very much misguided. The key to settling this conflict, lies in settling the internal conflicts of as many Armenians and Azerbaijanis as possible. Concentration on Track II diplomacy should be among the main priorities of the international community. The leaders and governmental counterparts have already met each other numerous times over the years, its hard to imagine or even expect any new “magical” ideas or solutions to arise. But conducting track II diplomacy in parallel with having on-going negotiations (and also curbing down aggressive military nationalistic speeches) would at least “ensure” that in case an agreement is reached, realizing it and implementing it could be imagined and somehow realistic.

I feel really happy that there still are people who believe and consider co-existence as an option, and others who also have the ability to “politely” disagree. A quick visit to any online news website’s comments section would give you a very realistic idea of the degree of hate to which today’s youth and “literate” population from both sides are immersed in.

With such hatred instilled in the majority of both populations, no solution, no matter how viable, realistic, or fair, could ever be materialized.

Gayane Makhmnurian
Jan 28, 2012 12:07

Half a year passed and I presume, I may do some conclusons. 1) I wached very close the conflict form the very beginning, from 1988, and do not need any myths about neighbours who lived for senturies in my mother’s land. 2) My rellatives fled from Baku in 1991, so I do not need myths about the situation with Baku Armenians, too. Neither about Sumgait and who attacked whom. 3) Yes, we are ancient and capable to take decisions. 4) No, we do not think Academy of Sciences to be harmful for our civilization.
And now about politics. To compromise means to give and to take. What are you going to give?
You tell us what we should leave to gain your confidence. You tell we have no choice. I think we can live when we lived thousands years, and see what you are prepared to leave to gain our confidence.
Isn’t it better for you to make first steps? Just to serve an example.
Wouldn’t you like to withdraw detachments from the border and we pledge not to attack?
Wouldn’t you stop warmongering in the media and TV? It is not difficult to compare what you and we write and tell to younger generation. So, please do somethig yourself without instructions to other side. Tell, what you are prepared to do. Thank you.

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