1 Jul 2010
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.