15 Sep 2010
Let them decide themselves!
If it takes weeks or months for a bullet wound to cure, then it normally takes years, decades, if not centuries, to eliminate the effects inflicted by widespread and systematic use of certain words and expressions in the media that easily develop into stereotypes.
This tried-and-true process of stereotype-formation needs due attention, particularly for neighbors like Armenia and Azerbaijan with their relations far from being benevolent and the ongoing saber rattling at the highest possible level currently showing no signs of retreat.
Armenian society – much in the same way as any other society – is not free from stereotyped thinking, which is widely reflected in all aspects of life and in mass media in particular.
Taken at face value, the atmosphere they create in people’s both consciousness and sub-consciousness and the consequences they cause, stereotypes might not be of utmost importance. But, unfortunately, this is not the case as they do cause more harm than we can ever imagine, affecting the minds and hearts of the growing generation. The most feasible hope is that one day Armenians and Azerbaijanis will seek and find more favorable, beneficial ways for reconciliation.
Very often publications in Armenian mass media are aimed at (quite successfully) creating the stereotype that can roughly be summarized as, “The Armenian nation is against a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while the Azerbaijani people want nothing but that.”
Given non-stop statements by high-ranking Azerbaijani officials about bringing back (by force, if need be) the territories that came under Karabakh’s (Armenia’s) control after the horrendous war in the early ‘90s, this might not be considered as a stereotype but rather reality. Still, this is a stereotype. Firstly, it is not usually the whole Azerbaijani nation that makes such statements, but mainly officials. Secondly, there are still many Armenians, among them also high-ranking officials, who also consider military action as an option for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
Another widespread stereotype in Armenian mass media might be paraphrased as, “Continuation of the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan will be detrimental for Azerbaijan; it will lose more and more territories should a new war be unleashed, while Armenia has nothing to worry about given the current status quo and will recognize the independence of Karabakh, should all the options for a peaceful settlement be exhausted.
This stereotype is mainly used by pro-government media outlets and officials representing the ruling authorities who systematically respond to the statements made by the Azerbaijani side. The motivation here is to preclude any possibility to rousing public ire over their inactivity and at the same time boost self-confidence and courage in the society.
While this is effectively working out so far, the reality is indicative of something else: no one can foresee what outcome a renewed war would have given the widespread reports about Azerbaijan using its oil bonanza to accumulate weapons. Nor can it be predicted whether or not other regional powers – well eager to seize the opportunity in an attempt to demonstrate their power and presence – intervene should military actions resume.
The next widespread stereotype found in the Armenian press – quite an instrumental part of the atmosphere in the information war and as much grave and alarming as the previous ones – is the use of myriad words and expressions that are only negative and pursue creating the image of the most horrible enemy, and even worse, dehumanizing it. By and large, they can be summed up as follows: “All Azerbaijanis, as a nation, are ‘barbarians’ and ‘aggressors.’ They are a ‘perfidious,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ ‘impudent,’ ‘mendacious,’ people who do not have any culture,” and so forth.
The reason why these kinds of words and expressions are injected in the press and, unfortunately, into the minds of people and are bearing fruit in a very short time, is quite simple – to create a dehumanized character of the other side and to always keep their own fellow citizens on the alert. It is these pernicious words and expressions that resonate with hatred, intolerance and preconceived opinions, shaping our attitude towards Azerbaijani and keeping us aloof from any contact with them unless we are courageous enough to take the first step and get over the seemingly insurmountable prejudices.
It would really be incorrect to say there are no aggressors and perfidious or impudent people among Azerbaijanis (as well as among Armenians). Nor would it be right to deem all Armenians (or all Azerbaijanis) as being innocuous or angels. The bottom line is that any U-turn in the present mainstream attitude among the two societies that the best optimists would ever conceive will hardly be feasible given the complex character of stereotypes and the depth they are rooted in peoples’ minds.
The elimination of stereotypes is a lasting and painstaking process with fresh, sober minds and immense efforts to be committed, and unfortunately, the younger generation is perhaps the most vulnerable when it comes to the influence and effects of stereotypes. The more prepared they are and the deeper their perception and understanding of stereotypes, the easier it will be to clear their minds and the media in the future. In that way, the youth will be given the much-deserved right to think about relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves, as they are the future civil society builders, journalists, politicians, ministers and presidents.
For better or worse, this is the reality and willy-nilly, we have to deal with it as a lot is at stake – the future of our offspring, the future of our homelands.
 “Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations in Mass Media of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Baku 2010, p. 29.